Saturday, February 23, 2013

The White Rose of Stalingrad: The Real-Life Adventure of Lidiya Vladimirovna Litvyak, the Highest Scoring Female Air Ace of All Time by Bill Yenne

One would think that "The White Rose of Stalingrad" by Bill Yenne is an attempt to tell the story of Lidiya Litvyak, the highest scoring Soviet female pilot of the Great Patriotic War. Unfortunately, the title is beyond a misnomer in this case. For better or worse, the author uses Litvyak and her family to tell the greater story of the Soviet Union and the Second World War. Litvyak herself takes up perhaps 15-20% of the book, and that's being generous. The rest of the 280+ pages are a rehashing of Soviet history with no original research or conclusions. This lack of originality is also evidenced by the author's bibliography. While his sources for delving into the history of the Soviet Union seem wide enough, too often there was an unneeded reliance on the likes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Yes, Solzhenitsyn definitely has a place in Soviet history, but to rely on his impressions about general Soviet history more so than historians who specialize in the Soviet Union is an odd choice.

Having read quite a bit of historical literature on the subject, I was somewhat vexed by the literary license the author continually utilized. I, personally, don't care about the dusty steppe, descriptions of sweat pouring down a pilot's face on a day that one could call a "scorcher," or the swaying of the wheat when I'm reading historical monographs. Furthermore, the lack of any footnotes or endnotes is something I consistently find impossible to understand. It might have been the publisher's decision, but it takes away from the reading experience for me, rather than adding to it. Granted, Yenne seems to think that mentioning an author's or historian's full name and the title of their work before quoting or referencing something will be helpful, but it soon becomes redundant and annoying (explaining that Volkogonov was Stalin's biographer was fine the first time; there is no need to do it continually when referencing Volkogonov).

Finally, minor issues include Yenne's use of transliterated Russian words and phrases. While they might be helpful to some, and even then only to an extent, they are out of place when utilized incorrectly. Additionally, the author labels patronymics "middle names," mistranslates at least one "phrase," and conflates the Great Patriotic War with WWII - they are separate concepts and ideas for Soviets/Russians. While Yenne relies on a few historians for his information when it comes to military matters, he still manages to incorrectly assess and present the Winter War against Finland and goes on to express a baseless assertion that Moscow could have 'easily' been captured in 1941. Unfortunately, this is not a book I could recommend for those interested in the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union, Soviet pilots, etc. All of the topics covered already have multiple books written about them and in most, if not all, cases they are better written and researched than "The White Rose of Stalingrad."

No comments: