One Hundred and Eightyfirst Asic-”War’s Unwomanly Face” written by Svetlana Alexievich (1985), A Book Review

War’s Unwomanly Face written by Svetlana Alexievich (1985),  is based on recorded witness testimonies and detailed analyses of an enormous material of interviews with female war veterans from Belarus. Each one of the women served the Soviet Union during the Second World War and find personal ways to share their stories. The stories are also very different from each other since the women all had different occupations, such as soldiers, farm workers, doctors, nurses, pilots, chefs etc. Very little from the eye witness testimonies is possible to connect to figures and places only, as usually when we read other historical data. Instead the shared memories all dig deeper into the unspoken question, what is human and what is not? We also meet emotional effects of war and mental problems, longterm health issues that the women suffer from in the aftermath of war. Was it worth it to serve the country during the war? If so, according to whom?

War’s Unwomanly Facereveal war reality as simply ugly, sad and extremely destructive. But it also share a completely new perspective since the usually male dominated genre of war stories, now consists of old women´s  stories and their sometimes shattered memories of the past.  The author has met with and listened to hundreds of women, at first unwillingly sharing memories from the past, knowing they may not be able to share without hurting themselves and the listener.  In their opinion so many of their memories are too difficult to tell….In their memories from the past we meet girls who lied about their age in order to serve the army, young girls, devoted to camrate Stalin, who never hesistated to give their lives for the future of their country. Young women who do not fully understand that the war may lead to death or to losing their friends and relatives. They welcome the sodliers marching by and they eagerly wait to serve the army themselves, not at all fully aware of the long term consequences.

Old women now, but young girls then, tell us how they never gave a second thought to their ambition to fight the enemy no matter what. They carried heavy weapons, dressed in uniforms way too big, since every equipment in the army was designed for men, not women. They experienced hardship in so many ways, but also shared the strength of comradeship, friendship and team work in impossible conditions. The women left their families, to join the army and more or less all of them recall how they during the war suffered from personal losses of friends and relatives who died or were wounded. They also experienced famine, fatigue and outbreaks of diseases. Many of their friends never returned from the war and the women who have shared their stories with Svetlana Alexievich all carry the heavy load of memories that are like a constant nightmare.

The Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich never really hesitated whether this would be a necessary story to share or not. Others however, did… According to the author herself, people around her who read parts of the material, tried to convince her to erase some of the disgusting details and others even tried to talk her out of the whole project. They said; What could possibly be interesting with women participating in war?

War’s Unwomanly Face has made an everlasting impact on me! The many shared memories from female participants in the Second World War were so pure and realistic and told in such openhearted and individually different ways that one has to read on and on to learn more. Each one of the stories share a new angle of the war from a day to day basis and when you thought you had read the absolutely most disgusting part, there is another one, even worse. My imagination would never had reached as far as these true stories do.

#This book has to be read and spread! 


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