Thursday, October 7, 2010

'Ivan's War'

Very good friend Pete recommended the book ‘Ivan’s War’, by Catherine Merridale to me some time ago.

If I were ever to be in a position to write history, this would be the type of history I’d like to write. Ms Merridale’s book followed on from her previous title ‘Night of stone: Death and memory in Russia’, and is the result of extensive research using primary archival material now accessible in Russia, and over 200 interviews with WW2 veterans still alive in Russia and other states of the Russian Confederation. I can only describe the book as remarkable.

From the back cover:

‘Ivan’s war’ is the first book to put the experience of the ordinary Russian soldier at the heart of a narrative of the war on the Eastern Front. Ivan, the archetypal Russian infantryman, emerges at last as a human figure in Catherine Merridale’s magnificent and widely acclaimed work.

Ms Merridale succeeds in cutting through 70 years of stereotypes to reveal the true nature of fighting on the Eastern Front, revealing the Russian infantryman as human rather than superhuman, a man (or woman) who suffered from starvation and cold, who responded to fear as any other human being will do, and a human being who was as susceptible to the excesses of human behaviour during and after the stresses of battle as any other man. She demonstrates the extent to which official reporting of the war covered up or ignored pillage and rape by the Russian soldier, without in any way demeaning those soldiers nor their experiences.

I could best describe the book as ‘profound’. I’d suggest that, with the new knowledge this book presents, ‘gamers with an interest in the eastern front 1941 to 1945 cannot claim anything like a reasonable knowledge of the history of that war if they have not read this book. For me this was an epiphany!!! It is a most amazing read. As I said in my opening paragraph, if I were ever to write history, this is exactly the sort of history I’d aspire to write.

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