on April 14, 1999
This is the one book you need to read if you want to know what it was like to be a Russian soldier in Afghanistan. The pictures and prose are gripping. I would love to know how Tamarov got the pictures out. The book is not long. I sat down to start it and was up late finishing it. I myself am a veteran and was amazed at how I could relate, as a soldier and a man, to the descriptions of frustration, boredom and fear. And the descriptions of the various groups of the Mujahadeen offered insights that I have seen nowhere else. Also, Tamarov was Spetz Natz, and the view into that elite unit is priceless.
If you want to know what Afghanistan was like for the Russian soldier, or simply what modern warfare is like in the Third World, and its effects on young men, this is the one book you need. At least to start with. The pictures alone are worth the price of the book.
I sent this to a friend of mine, also a Russian, also a veteran of Afghanistan, and all he could say when I asked what he thought was, "My God."
on December 16, 2002
We in America often forget that most people in this world are just trying to survive from one day to the next. Vladislav Tamarov is thrown into the Soviet Union's ill-fated military adventure in Afghanistan, and there he tries to survive from one minute to the next. He also tries, courageously and often in vain, to help his comrades survive, having been assigned the most dangerous job: minesweeper. He bravely shares every aspect of his horrifying story. He effectively conveys the harsh (un)reality of war. The photos that affected me the most were of the young soldiers, who look far too young to be where they are. A must read for anyone who wants to understand what war is really like.
on April 8, 2002
2001 Afghanistan: A Russian Soldier's Story. Berkley: Ten Speed Press
This book is essentially an account of one Russian soldier's life, Vladislav Tamarov, and his thoughts during his two-year tour of duty in Afghanistan from 1984 to 1985. More importantly, and the basis for the book, while in Afghanistan Tamarov has two jobs. One is assigned by the Soviet government, that of a minesweeper in the Blue Beret unit, and the other is a self-imposed job, one of a photojournalist. During his 217-day tour of duty, Tamarov constantly takes pictures to document his life abroad. Thus the book contains over 75 photographs, detailing his life and missions while in Afghanistan. Tamarov details how he enters into the Russian army at the age of nineteen because, according to the Russian Constitution, "To serve in the Soviet army is the honorable duty of every Soviet citizen." Tamarov explains that after boot camp, he is shortly shipped off to Afghanistan. Tamarov sees his the reason for his mission to Afghanistan as two-fold. According to Tamarov, "The first and official reason for sending Soviet troops into Afghanistan is to satisfy the request of the Afghanistan government. A second reason: Afghanistan is the Soviet Union's southern neighbor, and placing troops there assured the relative security of our southern borders." Tamarov describes the second reason as a more clandestine form of motivation, and that most of the Soviet public was unaware of this last reason.
Tamarov's book is divided into ten parts. Each part is devoted to either a geographical region of Afghanistan, where the trainings and combat missions take place, or it is devoted to personal issues Tamarov and his fellow soldiers deal with while occupying Afghanistan. Tamarov goes in depth on many of the missions he served on, as well as documenting the lifeand emotions encountered on the base and while on missions.
One of Tamarov's main points throughout the book is the gut wrenching effects war has on its young soldiers, those that survive anyway. Tamarov discusses how his tour in Afghanistan dramatically changed his life for the worse. Tamarov devotes two chapters to the ill effects war has on it participants. Tamarov explains how his depression after returning from war propels him to seek out other veterans of war, especially American who served during the Vietnam War, another "unsuccessful war". The last chapter of the book involves Tamarov coming to the United States in order to document the lives of other war veterans.
Tamarov's photos vividly capture the scenes of an ongoing war. And his captions serve to not only give the basic facts, but also gives a glimpse into his heart and mind while he was performing his missions. Some of these photos bear more impact than others. For instance, Tamarov has some photos that show his fellow soldiers going off to battles from which they would never return. Overall, this book does an excellent job at capturing the mood and atmosphere found on the Soviet bases and camps spread throughtout Afghanistan. Besides the impressive photos, Tamarov's text does a wonderful job in encapsulating his fears and desires while fighting this war in a foreign country. Tamarov makes it apparent the mean spirited nature of war takes a toll upon everyone, and that its affects are felt long after the war itself is over. "I can make these photos larger or smaller, darker or lighter. But what I can't do is bring back those who are gone forever."
on October 5, 2002
I was in the Afghanistan war in 1984-85, the same time as Vladislav Tamarov - the author of this book. I have been looking around for books about the Afghanistan war and I finally found it - "A Russian Soldier's Story". Tamarov's book took me back to those years in Afghanistan, years I will never forget and that changed my life forever. If you want to see the Afghanistan war through soldiers eyes (literally), then you must read this book. By now I have seen more books about Russian-Afghanistan war, but only Tamarov's book really gave me the real feeling of those years over there. You guys who served in Afganistan or Vietnam know what I mean by "the feeling of those years". A must read book for everyone after 9/11, but especially for those who know the real meaning of WAR.
Afghanistan A Russian Soldier's story by Vladislav Tamarov is an intensely personal book. The reader learns only a little about the strategy and tactics used by the Soviet forces to fight the war in neighboring Afghanistan. Rather, this is a document that reflects the process of maturation of its author. He starts as a 19-year-old man being drafted into the Russian army. His naiveté in volunteering for the commandos (which will take him in short order into the task of defusing enemy mines) mirrors the bravado and sense of indestructibility that is the main reason that men of his age have been used as soldiers for as long as there have been armies.
The story is told in episodes - not as plot for it's own sake, but rather to communicate the range of emotions and intensity of fear unique to the battlefield soldier. Some of my favorite writing comes from letters sent home by Confederate and Union soldiers from America's civil war. These documents are important not because of the credentials or social standing of the writers, but instead because of the intensity of the experiences these writers were living. Vladislav Tamarov continues this venerable tradition and extends the genre to new depths of insight. Probably the most obvious lesson learned was that after such a prolonged ordeal, one cannot "go home again". The effects of fighting the fghan war changed Mr. Tamarov's values so much that he was unable to fit back into the life that he idolized and longed to survive long enough to resume. We all know many stories of disaffected soldiers who live out their lives on the bitter fringes of society. Mr. Tamarov provides hope not only through his own strength and resiliency, but, later in the book, by his activism and involvement with international veterans groups to improve the lives of men often forgotten by all of us.
A parallel story of maturation is told by the wonderful series of photographs that illustrate the book. These pictures chronicle not only the events in his story, but more importantly, give the reader a glimpse into the development of author's remarkable photographic artistic maturation. The photos give the book a visceral link to that timeless reality captured best by a photographer of Mr. Tamarov's skill. It certainly left me wanting to follow-up more of his later work.
I highly recommend Afghanistan A Russian Soldier's story. Because it is so personal, it resonates deeply with the universal things that unite us as humans. It is set against the backdrop of a futile war in a foreign land, and then home transformed into the unfamiliar. The development of his personal strength to transform his savage experience into something that makes him a stronger man is inspiring. I especially recommend this book to those who appreciate war memoirs, those who like books about personal transformation, and to all who love great photographs.
on August 11, 2002
"Old soldiers never die; they just fade away," said General Douglas MacArthur in his maudlin farewell address to Congress. But what about young soldiers who are thrown into a war at 19 and are lucky enough to be discharged as veterans at 20? As Vladislav Tamarov says in this remarkable memorial - more than a memoir - to the boys he served with in Afghanistan, "War made me grow up fast, but it made me old for my years. It made me an old young man." People sometimes resent referring to "our boys" over there in a war but Vlad reminds us that they were boys, not yet men, fighting a Soviet war that old men had decreed. But the old men never shed their blood and their bodies were not sent home in zinc coffins - sealed, no doubt, so that no parents back in Russia would see the pieces of flesh that had once been their sons.
What makes this story so gut-wrenching is its photographs, mostly taken by Vlad himself and a few by his comrades. One picture shows a group of five of them. He gives their names and tells how three of them soon died and two were seriously injured. When we see TV pictures of American servicemen in Afghanistan today, we cannot help but notice that they all have helmets and often body armor. But none of the Afghantsis, the young Russians who served in Afghanistan, even had protective helmets, only light field hats.
Should not this young Russian's story and those of his American counterparts, the "Vietnamtsis," some of whom exchanged visits with and became friends of veterans like Vlad, serve to dampen the sounds of saber rattling coming out of Washington today? But it won't, will it? Wars are still started by old men and their younger clones. Who remembers that 40,000 body bags were sent to the Near East in preparation for Desert Storm? "Fortunately," only a little over 300 had to be used. That war had a purpose, albeit a somewhat ambiguous one, but the wars that cost 15,000 young Russian lives in Afghanistan and the one that cost 50,000 American lives in Vietnam were wars that had no purpose that the fighters could understand. The fighters had only one purpose: kill before you get killed.
Luckily, in America, reporters broadcast their stories of what was happening in Vietnam and an unprecedented swell of popular protest arose at home. In the Soviet Union there was no protest because no one back home was ever told their boys were dying by the thousands. They were told they were in Afghanistan to build hospitals and help the Afghani people.
In one of his most chilling stories Vlad tells how he had disarmed and knocked down a young Mujahadeen. He aimed at his head but something stopped him: "I saw how his hands were trembling: I noticed the horror in his eyes. `He is only a boy!' I thought and pressed the trigger."
This is a book to be bought, read and taken deep into the heart.
I've read a lot of war memoirs and yet this one stands out. The author, Vladislav Tamarov, writes honestly and openly about life during war - how he "didn't think" at all in the first few weeks but just learned to react, to survive...how he felt torn when he returned home, feeling as if a large part of his life was still waiting for him back in Afghanistan...how he had to shoot men who were just barely out of their teens (or still IN their teens)...how his marriage broke up as he faced the realities of his life after he returned home. Equally haunting are the photos which accompany the text. This one is a unique and very special portrait by a young soldier who deserves to read by as many people as possible.
This book is many things, part autobiography, part war journal, and part photojournalism. All its components are equally interesting and poignant. The reader is introduced to a young, naive lad from St Petersburg (Leningrad at that time) who is thrust suddenly from the safe and familiar confines of home to the strange and surreal landscape of war-torn Afghanistan. It is a universal story, told many times in many other accounts, on too many occasions. In all wars, innocence is lost, young soldiers age way too suddenly; one's fundamental way of looking upon the world is inalterably changed.
What distinguishes this book for me particularly is the masterful way Tamarov combines words and photography. Both have a timeless quality to them. The black and white images appear as if they could have been taken in any decade from the 1920's to the present. Most are of Tamarov's Russian compatriots, his fellow soldiers, appearing for the most part drained and curiously detached, as if they had all willed themselves elsewhere, anywhere but the hell they presently occupied. Afghanistan itself is depicted as if in a permanent time warp, eternally unalterable, no matter how many foreign hoards pass through its domain. The accompanying text could also have been written in any decade, describing the soldier's lot at Verdun, at Normandy, and perhaps most especially at Khe Sahn.
Tamarov makes many relevant parallels between the Russian experience in Afghanistan and America's in Vietnam. What is especially tragic is the reception the young soldiers of both wars experienced when they returned home. Unlike the conquering heroes of previous wars, welcomed back with parades and accolades, these young men were met with indifference and even resentment when they got back. Tamarov's account of his meetings with Vietnam vets and their subsequent bonding is one of the really uplifting, yet emotionally charged aspects of the book. The passage in which he recounts visiting the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, DC, is particularly effective.
Vladislav Tamarov, former minesweeper in one of the century's most fruitless and futile military excursions, has rendered an eyewitness account that is extremely relevant at this juncture in world history. Conflicts persist. Politicians continue their saber rattling, whether in Pakistan-India, China-Taiwan, Iraq-US, North Korea-US, Afghanistan, Chechnya. Perhaps it's once again time to consider what war actually does to the young people we send into battle, before we so cavalierly decide to do so again.
This book covers a time period from 1984 to 1989, which starts in boot camp, describes Vladislav's two years of military service in Afghanistan, and the following years of painful re-adjustment to civilian life.
The photography is extraordinary, capturing the mood of these young men, transported to a strange and harsh land. Though there's much beauty in the photographs, the book highlights the insanity of war, and the psychological damage done to its soldiers.
The translation may on occasion not be "perfect English", but I thought the writing was poignant and expressive. I found this journal hard to put down, and was extremely moved by Vladislav's story, both in pictures and words...
on October 3, 2002
If we knew then what we know now, America would never have armed and trained the mujahideen rebels. We trained them to fight against the Russians. Vladislav Tamarov, the author of this fine photo-book, was drafted into the Soviet Army and sent to Afghanistan. He didn't want to be there, and he was lucky to come home. Many of the boys featured in his book did not. By reading his memories, you understand how the experience harmed him. How confused he was and how difficult to adjust back in society. Now we Americans can understand the Soviet dillema, and why they had to stop the rebellion across their borders. It is terrible that another generation of young soldiers, just like Vladislav Tamarov, only now Americans, is in the same place fighting the same evil.