The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag 2021

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to do this tag and to do a check in of my reading this year so far as I have been pretty much in a sixth month reading slump. But this tag is like a booktube/book blogger stapple so thought I’d check in and see just how my reading has been this year.

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2020
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
I just loved this book a lot. The characters, their relationships, how everything comes together, it’s all so good. I would highly recommend the audiobook too, it was excellent.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
I liked Shadow and Bone well enough but then I loved Siege and Storm. Was everything I’d want in a sequel; adds new and great characters, gives old ones more development, more action and drama – it’s just so good!

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to
Monstrous Design by Kat Dunn
I did something which I have not done in a long, long time – bought the sequel even though I’ve yet to read the first book. Yes, I’ve not read Dangerous Remedy but I got that in a subscription box last year and then they were doing a special edition of the sequel so I ordered that so then hopefully when I finally read this series, they’ll match and both look pretty.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year
Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell
I’m so bad at keeping up with new releases and technically this isn’t a new release as it was originally published in 1982 but there’s a new edition being released at the end of July that I already have on preorder. It will be my read for Belize in my Read the World Project.

5. Biggest disappointment
The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov
I haven’t really had any disappointing books so far this year (guess that’s the perks of not reading a lot) but I did find The Good Life Elsewhere very odd. Just it wasn’t what I expected based on how it was described and it was a very odd book with some really dark humour.

6. Biggest surprise
In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy
Again, haven’t really read enough to be truly surprised by a book but I did enjoy In Praise of Love and Children more than I thought I would. It was a really engaging immigrant story and it was set in a time of UK history I had vague knowledge of so I found that interesting too.

7. Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you)
Besides Leigh Bardugo (who I had read before this year) I haven’t read multiple books by the same author so far in 2021. I did like Uršuľa Kovalyk’s writing style in The Equestrienne and I was very impressed by how Svetlana Alexievich wrote non-fiction so I wouldn’t be opposed to checking out more of their work.

8. Newest fictional crush and 9. Newest favourite character.
Sturmhond aka Nikolai Lantsov – Grisha’verse by Leigh Bardugo
I’ve not yet read King of Scars and Rule of Wolves but from his first appearance as Sturmhond in Siege and Storm I absolutely loved Nikolai and he became my favourite character in the original trilogy. I don’t know if he is a fiction crush, as I don’t have them often, but he is a new favourite and he’s so charming and funny and a perfect scoundrel while also being a great tactician.

10. Book that made you cry.
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich
This didn’t make me proper cry or anything but I did feel myself get really say or get a sort of pain in my chest as I listened to the audiobook. It was just really vivid in its descriptions of the brutality and reality of war.

11. Book that made you happy.
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
While Crooked Kingdom does have it’s sad or bittersweet moments, I just really enjoyed how everything came together and the final reveal of the con was exceptional. Having characters from the original Grisha trilogy was a huge bonus too.

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)
The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehasi
You’re getting two for this answer. I saw The Beast Warrior when browsing a Waterstone and immediately fell in love with the cover. After realising it was a sequel (book two in a duology I believe) I had to pick up the first book which was also stunning so I came home from Waterstones with these two beautiful books that I’ve yet to read.

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
All of them? I’m pretty sure I say that every year I do this tag. I want to focus on my Read the World Project. There are a few books I’ve started but only read a few pages or maybe a chapter or two (told you in a big slump) so they’re probably going to be my priority. There’s  by Ali Al Saeed, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić and The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio to name a few.

Now for some reading stats. I want to read 52 books this year and I’m current at 20 so I’m 5 books behind schedule which isn’t terrible and I do think if I actually pick a book up instead of watching a load of TV shows, I’ll soon get back on track.

I think the pandemic reading slump is hitting me now rather than last year like it seemed to hit a lot of people. Maybe now things are starting to open up a bit that’s what’s occupying my brain whereas before when there was very little to do I could focus on reading. Who knows!

Thanks to the Grisha’verse books I’ve read this year my most read genre is fantasy followed by short story collections and historical fiction. I’ve read more books by women than men (just) which I’m happy with but feel that might become more equal as I think I have more books by men on my TBR than women – or at least more books on my Read the World Project TBR are by men.

 

READ THE WORLD – Belarus: The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich

Translated by Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. Narrated by Yelena Shmulenson and Julia Emelin.

Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of women to get their first-hand accounts of their experiences in the Second World War. What made them want to fight and what they did – whether that was on the front lines, on the home front or in occupied territories.

Being born and raised in the UK, when it came to learning about the First and Second World War, what British soldiers went through and how the wars affected the British people was the main focus. I did learn about the Allies and how Russia played a big part in the success of both conflicts but never really knew anything about the people on the front lines there.

While most of what I learnt about British Women during WWII was that they worked on the farms or in factories, or maybe became nurses or radio operators in Europe but there was definitely more of a focus on what British women did on British soil.

The women from the Soviet Union, whether they were Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian, or whoever were on the front lines. There’s accounts from women in the typical roles like nurses, surgeons and radio operators but then there’s women who were snipers, pilots, anti-aircraft gunners, soldiers. They all had different ranks from privates to lieutenants and many of them were awarded medals and honours for their service. And the majority of these women joined up when they were teenagers, some as young as fourteen but most were between the ages of sixteen to twenty-one during the war. It’s hard to comprehend what these women saw and experienced and how it shaped their lives.

The Unwomanly Face of War is a hard book to get through as it really is often harrowing. These women tell their stories so matter-of-factly even when it concerns dead bodies and men trapped inside a burning tanks. I think listening to it on audio helped as it was easier to take a breather and pull myself out of that dark headspace.

While naturally these women’s accounts were the main focus, I did like how Alexievich inserted a little backstory every now and then as to how she found these women to interview or what the experience was like listening to them talk. I especially found it interesting how she noted that the way these women talked about their experience differed when there was a man in the room. If their husband was there, it was like they didn’t feel as free to talk about things – even if he also fought and had seen and done similar things. I think it’s because these stories are often about how the woman felt in these situations, and some of the things talked about were mundane like how there was no lady’s underwear or boots in the army to begin with and the problems that came with that.

Another thing that’s talked about is love, whether these women found love before, during or after the war and how the war affected them and their relationships. The fact that after the war some men refused to date or marry a young woman who had been at the front, who had fought for her country, because it was seen as unseemly or unladylike was infuriating. Especially as often during the war it seemed like male soldiers treated their female counterparts with respect.

I learnt a lot from The Unwomanly Face of War. I was almost constantly in awe of these women, how they were just teenagers or young women at the time and the things they fought through, is so impressive. I liked how the accounts sometimes contradicted each other, in the sense that it’s clear that while all these women experienced the war, they didn’t experience it or feel about the enemy the same way. Some pitied the fascist soldiers they had to treat while others despised them. It showed how complicated human emotions are and how sometimes in wartime not everything is easy to compartmentalise.

While The Unwomanly Face of War is a tough read, I think it’s an important one. I learnt so much and the fact that it’s an unflinching look at what so many women went through and of the war as a whole makes it more impactful. 5/5.