Saturday, March 18, 2017

Zinky Boys [1989]

War is futile and ugly business, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was especially so. The catastrophic military adventurism mobilized by Brezhnev in 1979, which lasted for a decade and led to incalculable damage both during its course and in its aftermaths, is pejoratively referred to as Soviet Union’s Vietnam War. Written by Svetlana Aleixevich, the iconoclastic Belarusian journalist who’s chronicled all major milestones in 20th Century Soviet history and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 for her “polyphonic writings”, Zinky Boys – the seemingly flippant title is a reference to the zinc coffins in which the dead were shipped back home – is a deeply distressing account of the devastating human cost of this notorious war, written in her quintessential form of “oral history”. Composed through interviews with an array of Soviet citizens – disillusioned veterans left physically and psychologically destroyed, disconsolate mothers who’ve lost their sons, grief-stricken widows, sardonic civilians and nurses (largely women) left scarred by their dehumanizing stints there – it presented the bleakest side of the war in terms of how a mix of lies, false promises and coercion were used to lure the young and gullible to it, and how the reality, both during the after their experiences there, turned out to be vastly different from what they had either believed in or hoped for. It unflinchingly chronicled the callous apathy of the administration, the proliferation of brutality and violence, and how what the war was supposed to mean turned out very different from what it eventually stood for. As can be guessed, it earned considerable wrath from the powers that be upon its publication, and the author wryly acknowledged that by having a few of livid responses published as part of its postscript. Even if one doesn’t get to know about the politics and finer nuances of this key Cold War episode through this book, one certainly is left affected by its scathing indictment of it.

Author: Svetlana Alexievich
Genre: Non-Fiction/War/Montage
Language: Russian
Country: Belarus (erstwhile Soviet Union)

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