Svetlana Alexievich has a specific style that she replicates throughout her volumes. She gives voice to women who have lived in “interesting” times. Whether it is war or the breakup of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a “capitalist” and “democratic” Russia, the women Alexievich interviews offer a compelling, raw narrative that often forces readers to stop and contemplate a world they never experienced. The general readers’ lack of familiarity with not only war but the genocidal and total war nature of the struggle on the Soviet-German front will force them to step out of their comfort zones and contemplate events and actions that all too often seem as if they belong outside the realm of the possible. In this text, readers are exposed to the events of the Second World War through the eyes of female combatants and military personnel.
The campaigns, battles, commanding officers, equipment, and often enough the patriotic and selfless spirit that moved many to run away to the front or volunteer for service did not differ from men to women. Neither did the pain and trauma both sexes experienced at the front. Women readily fulfilled frontline roles, such as snipers, tankers, of infantry(wo)men and participated in the partisan war in the enemy’s rear; the latter convey some of the most heartrending recollections offered by those who took part in the partisan struggle where rules of war too often ceased to exist.
However, what many women chose to remember, to concentrate on in order to define their wartime service offers an additional layer to our understanding of the Soviet war experience in general terms. Additionally, many of the positions women fulfilled in the Red Army lack an equivalent male voice as women dominated them. Nurses, who served both in hospitals in the rear and on the frontlines and were required to evacuate the wounded from the field of battle (even from burning or damaged tanks), make up a large portion of the reminiscences in this text. They give voice to the many wounded, dying, and dead that made up the millions of casualties, male and female, sustained by the Red Army. Additionally, bakers, postal workers, clerks, laundresses, construction workers, mechanics, supply personnel and numerous other positions that would hardly ever merit an anthology of recollections are included. Although these women did not see the frontline as often as others might, they nonetheless provided both the Red Army and every soldier at the front with needed supplies and support.
These veterans of a genocidal conflict we hope the world will never experience again offer an emotionally laden representation of the sights and sounds of war. From the roar of artillery to the anguished screams of the wounded and dying. Readers will encounter recollections that will consistently challenge what they know about the Soviet-German war. These women experienced lack of sleep, physical exertion, ill-fitting uniforms, heavy weapons, misogyny, tears, blood, iodine, chloroform, excrement, the raw emotions of love and hatred. They struggled on a daily basis as they gambled with their lives to see what fate awaited them the next day, hour, minute, or heartbeat. While war might not have a womanly face, women without a doubt helped achieve victory and suffered for their sacrifices both during the war and long after.