In the late 1970s, Svetlana Alexievich realized that she grew up surrounded by women who had fought in the Second World War but whose stories were absent from official narratives. This led her to write The Unwomanly Face of War. She spent years interviewing hundreds of Soviet women who had experienced the war on the front lines, on the home front and in occupied territories. As it brings to light their most harrowing memories, this symphony of voices reveals a different side of war.
Reviewed by Christian Tyler in Slightly Foxed Issue 60.
Histories of the Soul
Born in Ukraine in 1948, Alexievich grew up in what is now Belarus. There as a child she had overheard the women of the village – there were few men left – talking about their dreadful experiences during the Nazi invasion. It was this that prompted The Unwomanly Face of War, the first of her ‘documentary novels’ . . . Women’s role in the Great Patriotic War had been glossed over for decades. And when it was retrieved, it was sanitized. This sanitized version is the one the women would give Alexievich, at least while their husbands were in the room. The men did not trust their wives to tell their own stories . . .
Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 60, Winter 2018
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