cover image The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

Svetlana Alexievich, trans. from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Random House, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-399-58872-3

“I write not about war, but about human beings in war,” explains Nobel-laureate Alexievich (Secondhand Time) in this lyrical, elegant volume. “I write not the history of war, but the history of feelings. I am a historian of the soul.” Originally published in 1985 and newly translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, the work was inspired by Alexievich’s postwar childhood memories of the women in her home village and their stories of WWII. Alexievich traveled through the Soviet Union for years interviewing hundreds of other women, collecting a haunting cacophony of almost-forgotten voices. For these women, who joined the Red Army as snipers, medical personnel, riflemen, foot soldiers, etc., war wasn’t about generals and military equipment. “Women’s stories are different and about different things,” Alexievich reveals. “There are no heroes and incredible feats, there are simply people who are busy doing inhumanly human things.” Alexievich groups the interviews into chapters according to women’s perceptions about their service: “I Don’t Want to Remember...,” “They Awarded Us Little Medals...,” “They Needed Soldiers... but We Also Wanted to Be Beautiful....” Though political contexts have changed, Alexievich’s first book remains as soulful as ever. [em](Aug.) [/em]