The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

True, I don’t love great ideas. I love the little human beings …..

This is an extremely tough and painful book, both emotionally and intellectually. It is so tough that I could only read a little bit at a time. It was all these feelings, the thoughts, the naive excitement of all these girls, yes, they were just girls, some just fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old.  When I finished reading it, I thought I couldn’t write anything about it. For a few days, I really couldn’t  bring myself to think about it.

This is a book about the war, a women’s war. The women who gave interviews for this book were nurses, surgeons, partisans, underground resistance fighters, nurses, surgeons, sappers, snipers, front line soldiers, radio operators, and more  Each one has a story of experiences but  also a story of feelings, desires, dreams, and disappointments.

There were so many and they were so young. Who are these women? Why they did it? What were the reasons that made these young girls to decide to take up arms on par with men? Svetlana Alexievich listens to their experiences and presents the interviews  non-judgmentally. The connection that develops between her and her subjects is fascinating.

The horror, the absurdity and the incomprehensibleness of war appears so much clearly in the feelings, the thoughts, but also the silences of these women.  You won’t find heroes, important generals, great deeds and heroic events in this book. It is not about winners and losers. What you will find, are small, intimate, human things.  Alexievich’s documents are living beings. This is a story of small human beings, that have thrown out of ordinary life into the great depths of a horrific event. They were thrown into History.

A human being is greater than war ….., says Svetlana Alexievich. It is reality.

At the end, I think I was left with a single impression. That even in face of the most overwhelming cruelty, people are capable of amazing tenderness and kindness.

“There can’t be one heart for hatred and another for love. We only have one, and I always thought about how to save my heart, ” said a woman that saved both a Soviet and a German soldier from a battlefield.