cover image The Stalin Front

The Stalin Front

Gert Ledig, , trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. . New York Review Books, $14 (198pp) ISBN 978-1-59017-164-6

This slender but powerful account of the brutal fighting outside Leningrad in the summer of 1942 was originally published in 1955 as Die Stalinorgel —literally, the Stalin Organ. This first English translation, from the well-respected London poet and translator Hofmann (Approximately Nowhere ), joins his 2003 translation of its 1956 companion, Payback . The plot involves a Red Army advance against German trenches surrounding a barren hill near Podrova, and it gets the details right, but is mostly beside the point. In Ledig's hands, modern warfare reveals its horrific banality in prosaic bursts: the battlefield becomes a hellscape littered with corpses in rigor mortis, body parts and broken machinery; the soldiers, virtually indistinguishable from one another except by the color of their uniforms, descend gradually into desperation and despair, finally turning to "suicide, murder, self-mutilation, desertion, and dementia," but all the while clinging to bureaucratic order, artificial hierarchies and formal protocols that seem surreal and absurd amid the chaos. The point of view shifts between the sides, with no hint of ideology, political position or patriotic nobility—duty pertains solely to the moment at hand. Ledig's style is straightforward and unremarkable, but his shockingly modern view of war is anything but. (Nov.)