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Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 Paperback – January 23, 2007
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Thirty million men and women served in the Red Army during WWII. Over eight million of them died. Living or dead, they have remained anonymous. This is partly due to the Soviet Union's policy of stressing the collective nature of its sacrifice and victory. It also reflects the continuing reluctance of most Soviet veterans to discuss their experiences—in sharp contrast to German survivors of the Eastern Front. Merridale, professor of history at the University of London, combines interviews, letters and diaries with research in previously closed official archives to present the first comprehensive portrait of the Red Army's fighters. She carefully details the soldiers' age and ethnic diversity, and she puts a human face on a fact demonstrated repeatedly by retired U.S. officer and Soviet military expert David Glantz: the Red Army learned from the experience of its near-collapse in 1941, and by 1945 its soldiers were more than a match for their Wehrmacht opponents. Most poignantly, Merridale reveals that frontline soldiers increasingly hoped their sacrifices would bring about postwar reform—"Communism with a human face." What they got instead was a Stalinist crackdown—and a long silence, broken now by this outstanding book. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Doing research in the Soviet archives seems like a trying task, but critics revere the work Catherine Merridale did to prepare Ivan's War. The professor from Queen Mary, University of London, conducted over 200 interviews with Soviet veterans and visited major battle sites, but the most enlightening information came from tireless vetting of diaries, transcripts, and officers' reports. That Merridale can plait all this information into "an attempt to fathom war's meaning, effect and legacy" (Foreign Affairs) proves her acuity as a social historian, a skill she displayed previously with the admirable Night of Stone (2002). Only a curious absence of maps mars an otherwise compelling testament to these tragic, unsung warriors.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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If you're looking for just 'bang,bang; shoot-em-up' entertainment then, yes, you will be disappointed with this book. But if you are looking for something of true scholarly worth, you won't find anything better.
Merridale writes this book in a feminine fashion, one once removed from the male style of reporting on battles and death. It's very easy to read and fascinating in a way that holds your attention for long spells. When she writes of the hunger, the cold and the utter deprivation from life sustaining sustenances, you feel it down to your bones. It's hard to imagine that men (and women) could put up with these conditions without going mad.
Stalin's cruelty both during and after the war was more than his men deserved yet the USSR continued to exist as a brutal dictatorship for another 45 years post the armistace in 1945.. It breaks your heart when you consider their loves and yearnings, their thoughts and rationales, their heqartaches and hopes - who should deserve what they endured?
The Nazi's came on in a rush for the first few months, but as the winter came and the communist's built for their counter attacks, the momentum changed (oh boy, did it ever) and Merridale captures this revived spirit along with the rising tide of confidence in the Ivan's of the Red army. From the debacle in Finland to the rolling of Berlin, it's a heck of a story.
Anyone interested in WWII should read this book. "The Forgotten Soldier" by Guy Sajer also depicts a realistic characterization of the German side in this mother of all conflicts.
The minimum numbers of U.S. and U.K. military deaths in World War II are perhaps 291K and 244K respectively in all theaters. Though various "experts" may disagree on the actual numbers, it can't be argued that, in terms of casualties suffered, the U.S.S.R.'s armed forces bore the brunt of the war against Hitler. It could also be asserted that the Soviet Union effectively won the war against Germany. Despite the famous successes of Allied forces in Western Europe, their presence there was perhaps the only reason the Red Army didn't sweep all the way to the English Channel. What sort of army was this?
Professor of contemporary history and author Catherine Merridale's IVAN'S WAR: LIFE AND DEATH IN THE RED ARMY, 1939-1945 is, considering the obstacles confronting the Western researcher in the former and secretive Soviet Union, a wonderfully illuminating narrative.
As best as her sources allow, Merridale examines the full context of Ivan's army experience: the Finnish War (1939-1940), the precipitous rout by the German Wehrmacht in the summer and autumn of 1941, hanging-on for dear life through August 1942, the end of the beginning - the gritty defense of Stalingrad, the beginning of the end - the apocalyptic Battle of Kursk in July 1943, the advance to the U.S.S.R.'s western border, stepping over the line into the capitalist West, the last paroxysm - the Battle for Berlin, and, finally, demobilization, return home, and the postwar years. But, as the title of the book implies, this isn't a rehash of battles so much as an attempt to reconstruct the lives of the individual grunts in the snow, mud, and trenches: conscription, training (or lack thereof), morale, discipline, ongoing political indoctrination, supply, weaponry, contact with family, the relationship with officers and with female troops, regard for the national leadership, loyalty to the Communist Party, the POW experience, medical care, battle fatigue, desertion to the opposition, drinking, rape (especially savage in East Prussia), exposure to capitalism's affluence, looting, post-war health care and benefits (such as they were), and the evolution of heroic memory and tradition.
The first soldiers to return home got the victory parades and the most applause. But then it dropped off until, as Merridale writes:
"Stalin ... was proud to take credit for the victory but reluctant to share it. He was also aware that stories of his own mistakes were waiting to be told, especially those that focused on the debacle and slaughter of 1941 ... By 1948, within three years of the peace, public remembrance of the war was all but banned." The cruelest measure was taken in 1947, when Stalin ordered the streets cleared of beggars, many of whom were ex-Army amputees, and had them shipped off to exile in the north, where many died. And who can forget the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of liberated Soviet POWs that were treated no better than traitors and convicts by Stalin's secret police?
It wasn't until Brezhnev resurrected and mythologized Soviet memories of the war that veteran Ivans came into their own. At this point in the narrative, I couldn't help but think of America's tribute to its WWII military survivors - a hallowed generation - most recently in such magnificent film portrayals as Saving Private Ryan (Special Limited Edition) and Band of Brothers, and contrast their experience, which included the benefits of the GI Bill (which sent my Dad to medical school), VA health care, and the prosperity of the 1950s, with the relatively shoddy treatment of Red Army vets.
IVAN'S WAR includes only one small scale map of the Eastern Front. Normally, I would subtract a star for such a lack of visual detail in a war history, but since this volume is about men and not battles, I'll make an allowance. Commendably, however, the book does contain thirty-four useful black and white photos of Ivan at war.
IVAN'S WAR is a must read for any casual or serious student of World War II, especially regarding the Eastern Front, which receives relatively little attention in the mythology of the western democracies. For the Soviets, the Eastern Front was a savage crucible which transformed the last European peasant army into a modern fighting force.