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This review is from: Ivan's War: The Red Army at War 1939-45: The Red Army, 1941-45 (Hardcover)
There are many books on aspects of the war on the Eastern Front in WW2, with no shortage of senior officer's memoirs among them. Yet most of the common soldier's memoirs, at least those published in English, tend to be from Germans and convey a picture of what life was like in the Ostheer. In this book the author has attempted to convey a picture of what the war was like for Soviet soldiers on the frontline, and, to a lesser extent, for the families left behind. She has done this primarily through a series of interviews with Soviet veterans, drawing conclusions from their accounts and from other personal sources such as letters and diaries.
What emerges, not surprisingly perhaps, is a more human picture than the universally handsome, steadfast and heroic `homo-Sovieticus' that the Bolshevik propaganda posters always depicted. There is nothing startlingly new in this book, but it does provide a detailed and fairly comprehensive picture of the soldier's daily life; the training, the military routine, the food, the clothing and equipment, the entertainment, the propagandising, the work in the fields at harvest time, the battlefield superstitions, the crude humour, and the harsh discipline. Some of what the author describes is common to any army, but much of it was specific to the Red Army of the 1930's and 1940's; and what comes across repeatedly is the comradeship, endurance, and deep patriotism of what was, even in the early 1940's, a largely peasant army.
A book of this sort has been long overdue (Vasilii Grossman's - A Writer at War, though at times covering similar ground, was much more fragmentary), and with a declining number of veterans left alive to interview, it is a book that could not have been put off for too much longer. What I found intriguing was the reluctance of most of the author's interviewees to discuss their experiences - even those who regularly attended veteran's clubs. Despite the author's best efforts to describe the Russian experience of the Great Patriotic War, it seems she had taken on an impossible task, and that you had to have been there to truly understand.