Boys in Zinc, by Svetlana Alexievich

Second paragraph of third section:

Мы еще там гибли, а нас уже здесь судили. Раненых привозили в Союз и разгружали на задворках аэропорта, чтобы народ не заметил. Не знал…Никто из вас не задумывался: почему после службы в армии в мирное время молодые парни возвращаются с орденом Красной звезды и медалями "За отвагу" и "За боевые заслуги". Привозят гробы и калек. Никто не задавал таких вопросов… Я не слышал… Я слышал другое… В восемьдесят шестом приехал в отпуск, и у меня спрашивали: вы там загораете, ловите рыбу, зарабатываете бешеные деньги? Газеты молчали или врали. Телевидение тоже. Мы — оккупанты, — пишут теперь. Если мы были оккупантами, почему мы их кормили, раздавали лекарства? Входим в кишлак — они радуются… Уходим — они тоже радуются… Я так и не понял, почему они всегда радовались? They killed us out there, then they judged us back here. They brought the wounded to the Union and unloaded them at the back of the airport, so people wouldn't notice. I didn't know … None of you bothered to think why young men who had served in the army came back into peacetime with an Order of the Red Star and medals 'For Valour' and `For Services in Battle'. They brought back the coffins and the cripples. But nobody asked those questions … I didn't hear them … I heard something different. In '86, when I came back on leave, they asked me: 'Do you go sunbathing and fishing out there and earn tons of money?' The newspapers said nothing or they lied. And the television too. We were invaders, they write now. If we were invaders why did we feed them and hand out medicine? When we entered a kishlak they were delighted … And when we left they were delighted. I never did understand why they were always delighted.

A grim grim read by Belarus's Nobel prize-winning writer – the only Nobel laureate for literature whose output is primarily non-fictional since, errr, Winston Churchill in 1953. This is generally rated her best book; it's a gruelling set of first-person accounts from Soviet soldiers and other personnel involved with the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan. The personally brutalising effects of war on the combatants are not especially new; what Alexievich manages to do is to eloquently convey the trauma and confusion, especially of those who realised pretty early on that they were fighting for a lie. The frank accounts of the Russian and Belarussian women who signed up as nurses or admin staff, and were then sexually exploited by the system, is another aspect that is surely also true of more recent conflicts but little discussed. An appendix recounts the dispiriting story of attempts to censor or punish the author for having the audacity to publish a book that challenged the Army. It's tremendous stuff, appllicable to many wars. I'm very glad that you can get it here.

This was my top unread book by a woman. Various Hugo packet books are next in line, so I'm not going to record progress on that list until I have exhausted my voting materials.

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