Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Absolute War by Chris Bellamy

Russia's Great Patriotic War
review by Maryom

I'm stepping outside my normal book reviewing habits here with a massive book- 814 pages, though that does include notes, references, index and bibliography - on Soviet Russia during the Second World War.
Two reasons why I'm reading this - I won it from Pan Macmillan but also the subject area, Russia and the Eastern Front, falls in a gap in my knowledge. A lot of WW2 history is picked up, accurately or not, through films - from Battle of the River Plate and the Dam Busters to Saving Private Ryan and Memphis Belle, via the Great Escape and the Dirty Dozen - but from the British/American point of view. Presumably the Russians made their versions of heroic war movies but they've not reached our TV screens. So what I knew about Russia's involvement in WW2 was vaguely remembered things from school history and how Jude Law saved Stalingrad in Enemy at the Gate.

This has taken a serious length of time to read - on and off since November 2009. I'd like to stress that there's been a lot of time when I've not been trying to read this but have been reading chick lit or something for a change! It was definitely something I needed to be in the mood to read - it takes a greater level of concentration, otherwise I reach the end of a page and realise I've not actually taken any information in. Having said that, the style was easy to read and at times funny - the family are getting fed up of amusing anecdotes being read out to them (I particularly liked Stalin sending one of his generals out of the room like a naughty child to think about what he'd said!)
Obviously it's a book full of diplomatic and military manoeuvres and engagements but there are many snippets to give a personal, human scope to these events - for example - retreating in front of the German advance, general Rokossovskiy seeks shelter with locals only to be berated for giving way by an old soldier who fought against the Germans in WW1; for 5 weeks of winter the besieged inhabitants of Leningrad had to survive on 125g (about 3 slices) of bread a day and wallpaper was removed and the paste eaten!; during the siege of Moscow, Stalin has a personal plywood shelter built in the Underground and dosses down there at nights like an "omnipotent tramp"; or did you know that women make better snipers? Apparently they can keep still for longer particularly in freezing weather.

It was most definitely a fascinating book. Obviously not one for everybody but I'd certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the period or people.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Pan Macmillan

Genre - Adult, non fiction, history

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