83

Seventy pages into Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War. I will undoubtedly rehearse some more on here in the coming days, but for the moment, these notes from the direct life experiences of the one million or so young women who fought at the front alongside the men in the Soviet armies of 1941-45, researched and written Alexievich explains because under Stalin “the history of the war had been replaced with the history of the victory.”

“I came back from the war grey-haired. Twenty one years old, but my hair was completely white.”

the pilot, “for 3 years I didn’t feel myself a woman. My organism was dead. I had no periods, almost no desires. When my future husband proposed…in Berlin, by the Reichstag, he said – we are lucky, lets get married – I wanted to cry, to hit him…how in the midst of all this black soot and black bricks. Begin by making me a woman: give me flowers, court me…”

the cook who had prepared food for over 100 women who left in the morning but who couldn’t eat when only 7 returned at night

the hero: a sniper with 75 killings to her name who returned to being an accountant in the local car factory after the war, her name quickly forgotten

“I was a machine gunner. For years after the war I was afraid to have children”

“there were no dogs or cats, but there were plenty of rats, they nibbled at the hands of the wounded during the night”

“the only colour of war is black with a little red from the blood”

an old villager looking across fields near her village, recalls that nothing would grow there for years because after the battle that waged across these fields was done the dead lay so deep that the “whole village spent a month burying them”

 

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