Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
Some good parts, some boring parts
on 7 August 2011
Breaks the taboo of hunger and cannibalism during the Leningrad siege. The issue of cannibalism being uncomfortable, a blind eye is generally turned on it. However, in this book, you get a glimpse of, basically widespread cannibalism verging on horror, with cannibal-hunters preying the weakest i.e. children and women, but not only. In one related episode a girl, Vera Rogova, weakened by hunger, imprudently takes a shortcut that day, but is still on her guard, and suddenly feels, when going through a corridor, that she is really crossing the hunting grounds of a cannibal-hunter, who indeed gives hunt; at the climax, she is pursued by the hunter, with an axe, true horror, ... when shell falls into a group of Red Army soldiers, her salvation.
The military campaign leading to the encirclement of Leningrad is well told, and the ideological background too. In the Nazi mythology this was a war to annihilate the Slavic jew-bolshevik sub-humans, so it makes complete sense, within the ideology, to lay out siege and wipe out by hunger, efficiently, the entire population of the cradle of the bolshevik revolution.
Idem for Govorov's offensive, that broke the encirclement of the town.
The book is to a some extend boring.
It bashes endlessly Voroshilov for the initial defense of Leningrad, and Zdanov too (who was in charge of the administration of the town, and, after Voroshilov's dismissal, of its defense up to Govorov's appointment). The author has evidently a point with Voroshilov, a Stalin cronie. Voroshilov was fighting the last war, and shown himself incapable to adapt to the modern mechanized war of the blitzkrieg, multiplying errors. Zdanov, a civilian, also did mistakes, such as with the food warehouses of the town (the food was just left there, an easy target fot the Luftwaffe). Zhukov is also criticized, for being "ruthless".
To me, this bashing takes an ideological turn, to the point where the Soviet Authorities may seem to take the primarily guilt for the fate of the town, and one sometimes forget there was a siege being laid by a formidable force, the German WWII army. For one, Voroshilov, for all his incompetence, fairly represents those soldiers that keep fighting the last war, like Gamelin in France. It is a matter of technical incompetence, not of ideology, one can argue. As for Zdanov, he and his administration are constantly bashed since the administration staff was better or even, at the top, very well fed. I do not see it as surprising that, in a besieged town, the administration and the army would be better fed than the rest, but it all turns down, almost, as if the Soviet Authorities were cunningly participating in the massive starvation of the city. I see also as ideological the repetitive labeling of Zhukov as "ruthless", he had to be so in such a war, it is besides the point, I would argue.
In conclusion, what appears to me as an ideological mindset plus the highly fragmented, repetitive, nature of the testimonials end up turning substantial parts of the book boring, and I honestly had trouble to finish it. It is a pity since the author has two very good books on the WWII Russian war, 'The Retreat' and 'Stalingrad'.