- Paperback: 462 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (January 23, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312426526
- ISBN-13: 978-0312426521
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 Paperback – January 23, 2007
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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
The driving concept between this type of approach to history is to use oral accounts from veterans to add texture to broad themes that the author can then develop. To be honest, Merridale does not seem to have much flair for oral history and too many of her accounts are rather tepid. I get the impression that the Soviet vets either didn't want to talk to her since she was a foreigner - she hints at this - and those men she did interview were not the most desirable subjects. Given the availability of better Soviet accounts that have appeared since the fall of Communism, I find it hard to believe that Merridale could not have gotten some better material. Readers should note that Merridale's examination of "Ivan" is far from comprehensive - not only are there no accounts from the Red Air Force or Navy, but important branches such as artillery and cavalry are all but ignored. One need only go to "the Russian Battlefield" website to find dozens of veterans accounts, sorted by branch, that provide better detail than the accounts offered in Ivan's War. It is also odd that Merridale rarely mentions specific Soviet army units, even though Soviet vets are often proud of having served in this or that unit.
It is clear that Merridale has researched Soviet archives carefully. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that she knows how to use much of the information that she has gathered. For example, on page 215 she writes that 310,000 Soviet tankers were killed in the war out 403,000 trained, which seems like 76% fatalities. However, when I checked the footnoted source I realized that these numbers referred to only the period 1943-45 and also included personnel from mechanized units. Readers should treat her facts and figures with some circumspection.
Overall, the first two-thirds of the book, which covers the pre-war period up to 1944 is fairly interesting and well-written. This part of the book is quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, the last one-third of the book covers the period 1945 up to the current day and seems interminable. Somehow, the author's description of how Russian women wanted to marry wounded veterans for their pensions seems neither unique to the USSR or pertinent to life in the Red Army in 1939-45. In the last 70-80 pages or so the author appears to be wandering, having lost her focus once she passes VE Day.
However, the reviews have failed to mention what I found to be one of the most important features of the book: The significant lacunae in the historical record of the Red Army. Merridale shows how completely the historical reality of the Red Army experience has been replaced by the state-sanctioned mythology. Merridale describes sorting through the archives, sealed for sixty years, and finding that even the confidential reports by the internal Party spies are filled with bland pious generalities. Even as they were fighting and dying, the Army was selectively editing its official memory, removing any evidence of venality, cowardice, war crimes, insubordination and so on.
More disturbingly, the veterans Merridale interviews have edited their own memories, often describing scenes from propaganda movies as if they actually experienced them first-hand. Merridale's sympathetic treatment of the veterans' accounts makes this crime against memory all the more disturbing. In fact, Merridale's most vivid primary sources are the letters and diaries of front-line soldiers (most of whom were killed in action), preserved by grieving families.
In an odd way, Merridale's book is the perfect complement to a political-theoretical book like Hannah Arendt's "Totalitarianism". Arendt describes how the totalitarian state can control every aspect of human existence. Merridale shows that this control extended even to the chaos and relative freedom of the front line.