From 1979 to 1989 Soviet troops engaged in a war in Afghanistan that claimed thousands of casualties on both sides. While the Soviet Union talked about a ‘peace-keeping’ mission, the dead were shipped back in sealed zinc coffins. Boys in Zinc presents the honest testimonies of soldiers, doctors and nurses, mothers, wives and siblings who describe the lasting effects of war. Weaving together their stories, Svetlana Alexievich shows us the truth of the Soviet-Afghan conflict.
Reviewed by Christian Tyler in Slightly Foxed Issue 60.
Histories of the Soul
Boys in Zinc (a reference to the metal coffins in which casualties were sent back to Russia) is an indictment of war, the horrors witnessed by the young conscripts and the grief of mothers who have lost an only child. We hear what death on the battlefield really looks like. It’s nothing like the movies, says one survivor. A soldier shot in the head can run for half a kilometre crazily chasing his own brains as they stream from his skull. Mothers describe the trauma of bereavement. What exactly lies inside that zinc coffin they cannot see and are not allowed to know. They had been assured that only sons would not be sent to Afghanistan, and would now never trust the state again . . .
Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 60, Winter 2018
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