31 December 2017

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in WWII

The long-awaited translation of the classic oral history of Soviet women's experiences in the Second World War - from the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In the late 1970s, Svetlana Alexievich set out to write her first book, The Unwomanly Face of War, when she realized that she grew up surrounded by women who had fought in the Second World War but whose stories were absent from official narratives. Travelling thousands of miles, she spent years interviewing hundreds of Soviet women - captains, tank drivers, snipers, pilots, nurses and doctors - who had experienced the war on the front lines, on the home front and in occupied territories. As it brings to light their most harrowing memories, this symphony of voices reveals a different side of war, a new range of feelings, smells and colours.

After completing the manuscript in 1983, Alexievich was not allowed to publish it because it went against the state-sanctioned history of the war. With the dawn of Perestroika, a heavily censored edition came out in 1985 and it became a huge bestseller in the Soviet Union.

I picked up a copy of this title by chance in a local bookshop. I found it provides a fascinating insight into the stories of the Soviet women who served - and in some cases their husbands and relatives too - but also into the author's process of finding, meeting and recording of these stories. I found there are a number of similarities to Stud Terkel's The Good War, so if you found that title interesting, I would highly recommend The Unwomanly Face of War.

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