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The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich
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The Unwomanly Face of War

An Oral History of Women in World War II

$31.50 USD

Get for $14.99 with membership
Length 14 hours 17 minutes
Language English
Translators Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
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A long-awaited English translation of the groundbreaking oral history of women in World War II across Europe and Russia—from the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

“A landmark.”—Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

For more than three decades, Svetlana Alexievich has been the memory and conscience of the twentieth century. When the Swedish Academy awarded her the Nobel Prize, it cited her invention of “a new kind of literary genre,” describing her work as “a history of emotions . . . a history of the soul.”

In The Unwomanly Face of War, Alexievich chronicles the experiences of the Soviet women who fought on the front lines, on the home front, and in the occupied territories. These women—more than a million in total—were nurses and doctors, pilots, tank drivers, machine-gunners, and snipers. They battled alongside men, and yet, after the victory, their efforts and sacrifices were forgotten.

Alexievich traveled thousands of miles and visited more than a hundred towns to record these women’s stories. Together, this symphony of voices reveals a different aspect of the war—the everyday details of life in combat left out of the official histories.

Translated by the renowned Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, The Unwomanly Face of War is a powerful and poignant account of the central conflict of the twentieth century, a kaleidoscopic portrait of the human side of war.

“But why? I asked myself more than once. Why, having stood up for and held their own place in a once absolutely male world, have women not stood up for their history? Their words and feelings? They did not believe themselves. A whole world is hidden from us. Their war remains unknown . . . I want to write the history of that war. A women’s history.”—Svetlana Alexievich

Read by Julia Emelin, Yelena Shmulenson, Allen Lewis Rickman, and Alan Winter

THE WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE
“for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”

“Patient in overcoming cliché, attentive to the unexpected, and restrained in exposition, her writing reaches those far beyond her own experiences and preoccupations, far beyond her generation, and far beyond the lands of the former Soviet Union.”—Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

“Alexievich’s artistry has raised oral history to a totally different dimension. It is no wonder that her brilliant obsession with what Vasily Grossman called ‘the brutal truth of war’ was suppressed for so long by Soviet censors, because her unprecedented pen portraits and interviews reveal the face of war hidden by propaganda.”—Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege


“A mighty documentarian and a mighty artist . . . Her books are woven from hundreds of interviews, in a hybrid form of reportage and oral history that has the quality of a documentary film on paper. But Alexievich is anything but a simple recorder and transcriber of found voices; she has a writerly voice of her own which emerges from the chorus she assembles, with great style and authority, and she shapes her investigations of Soviet and post-Soviet life and death into epic dramatic chronicles as universally essential as Greek tragedies.”The New Yorker

Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, in 1948 and has spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and present-day Belarus, with prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe. Starting out as a journalist, she developed her own nonfiction genre, which gathers a chorus of voices to describe a specific historical moment. Her works include The Unwomanly Face of War (1985), Last Witnesses (1985), Zinky Boys (1990), Voices from Chernobyl (1997), and Secondhand Time (2013). She has won many international awards, including the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”

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Reviews

“A monument to courage . . . It would be hard to find a book that feels more important or original. . . . [Svetlana] Alexievich’s account of the second world war as seen through the eyes of hundreds of women is an extraordinary thing. . . . Her achievement is as breathtaking as the experiences of these women are awe-inspiring.”The Guardian
 
“Magnificent . . . After decades of the war being remembered by ‘men writing about men,’ she aims to give voice to an aging generation of women who found themselves dismissed not just as storytellers but also as veterans, mothers and even potential wives. . . . Alexievich presents less a straightforward oral history of World War II than a literary excavation of memory itself.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“Could not have appeared at a more opportune time . . . Women did everything—this book reminds and reveals. They learned to pilot planes and drop bombs, to shoot targets from great distances. . . . Alexievich has turned their voices into history’s psalm.”The Boston Globe
 
“Harrowing and moving . . . Alexievich did an enormous service, recovering these stories. . . .The Unwomanly Face of War tells the story of these forgotten women, and its great achievement is that it gives credit to their contribution but also to the hell they endured.”The Washington Post
 
“We should resolve to read this book alongside the world news report. . . .  Ms. Alexievich never tries to simplify. . . . Refusing to pass judgment, crediting all, she listens, suffers and brings to life. . . . It took years and many miles of traveling to find and capture all the testimonies here. . . . We still end up feeling that we have been sitting at her side. With her, we hear the memories of partisans, guerrilla fighters trapped behind the lines.”The Wall Street Journal
 
“Alexievich has forged her own distinctive identity: as a witness to witnesses who usually go unheard. . . . In a ‘post-truth’ era when journalism is under pressure—susceptible to propaganda, sensationalism, and ‘alternative facts’—the power of documentary literature stands out more clearly than ever. . . . Listen to Alexievich.”The Atlantic
 
“[A] remarkable collection of testimonies . . . Sitting at kitchen tables, Alexievich coaxes out of the women stories that describe a reality vastly different from the officially sanctioned version. . . . They speak guardedly but vividly of fleeting encounters, deep relationships, unexpressed feelings.”The New Yorker
 
“Continually shocking and tearjerking . . . The introductory materials here, in which Alexievich quotes from the journals she kept while working on the project and from her later reflections and dealings with censors, are as compelling as the primary text.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Alexievich gives us an idea of how the army women were perceived by society, during the war and afterwards. . . . These voices, thanks to Alexievich, have themselves become part of history.”Financial Times Expand reviews
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