Ivan’s War: The Red Army at War 1939-45 by Catherine Merridale is a powerful and groundbreaking examination of the ordinary Russian soldier’s experience of the worst war in history, on the eastern front of World War II.
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‘Essential reading, not just for those interested in the Eastern Front, but for anyone who wants to understand Russia.’ Antony Beevor, Sunday Times
They died in their millions, shattered by German shells and tanks, freezing behind the wire of prison camps, driven forward in suicidal charges by the secret police. Yet in all the books about the Second World War on the eastern front, there is very little about how the Russian soldier lived, dreamed and died.
Catherine Merridale’s discovery of archives of letters, diaries and police reports have allowed her to write a major history of a figure too often treated as part of a vast mechanical horde. Here are moving and terrible stories of men and women in appalling conditions, many not far from death. They allow us to understand the strange mixture of courage, patriotism, anger and fear that made it possible for these badly fed, dreadfully governed soldiers to defeat the Nazi army that would otherwise have enslaved the whole of Europe. The experience of the soldiers is set against a masterly narrative of the war in Russia. Merridale also shows how the veterans were treated with chilling ingratitude and brutality by Stalin, and later exploited as icons of the Great Patriotic War before being sidelined once more in Putin’s new capitalist Russia.
Merridale's book is essential reading, not just for those interested in the Eastern Front, but for anyone who wants to understand Russia.
Ivan's War is a magnificent achievement. It is a tribute to Merridale that she is able to offer a compelling account of the horrors of war and the stark mutability of conflict without the picture being muddied by the grand stratagems of battle fought across an enormous area. She organises her extensive material with great authority and clarity.
Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the history of the time, or modern Russia's dependence on it. Ms Merridale's earlier book, Night of Stone, was a definitive account of the Russian attitude to the death and suffering that drench its history. Now her feel for human nature and her excellent knowledge of Russian language and culture, combined with her research among Russian (and German) sources, have produced a worthy sequel.
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