Ive read many books regarding the War on the Eastern front - a hobby that I started about 15 years ago when I first read Anthony Beevors absolutely excellent 'Stalingrad'. It was in that book all that time ago that I first heard of Vasilli Zaitzev and his allies in the Russian sniper corps, so I was excited when I purchsed this book and keen to read the story from the perspective of the man himself, egged on of course by the numerous four and five star reviews of the title. Sadly, what waited for me was disappointment.
I read the foreword with interest, which criticised the movie 'Enemy at the Gates' as being largely ficticious, barely based on Zaitzevs real life story, and an atrocious peice of anti-communist clap trap. All fair comment.
The problem is that Zaitzevs own story appears almost as bias, simply told from the opposite end of the political spectrum and staunchly pro-Communist. Russians are almost always described by Zaitzev as behaving in a heroic and self sacrificing manner. Germans are almost always referred to as 'Nazis' or 'fascists', and whilst there were plenty of both in the battle for Stalingrad, including some infamous SS divisions, its well established that most Germans were neither.
The Germans are almost always described as behaving cowardly, with ineptitude, or as vicious sadists, and Zaitsev only on rare occasion credits them with any ability or skill, and does so only grudgingly when he does. Zaitsev makes no mention of the many horrors that the Russians committed during that battle - horrors which Zaitzev undoubtedly witnessed.
It would be easy to argue that this is a deeply personal account from someone who experienced the worst the Germans had to offer first hand and probably had a hatred of his enemy that is difficult to understand and makes objectivity very difficult. Alternatively, considering how stringently the Communist regime controlled its media and punished defeatism, depending when Zaitzevs notes were originally written it could very well be the case that he felt compelled to paint such a positive picture of the Russians actions during the battle, whilst simultaniously pouring such shame on the Germans.
Another area where the book fails in my opinion is with regards its attention to detail. Books like 'Stalingrad' and 'The Forgotten Soldier' are truely great tomes because they describe events in a manner that allows the reader to feel as if they are there themselves - to feel the heat, hear the cries of the injured, choke on the dust, or smell the dead. Zaitzevs book lacks any such attention to detail - frankly it created the impression for me that Stalingrad was nothing worse than a rubble strewn city and conveyed none of the gravity of so many other books.
The only area in which the book succeeds in my opinion is in describing some aspects of the snipers art - the tricks of the trade so to speak - how snipers moved, how they would locate and eliminate an enemy, their modus operandi. That said, whilst this better describes snipers than it does the battle of Stalingrad, there are also better books about snipers out there if thats what youre looking for.