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Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the…

Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (1991)

by Svetlana Alexievich

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 31 mentions

English (7)  Dutch (1)  Swedish (1)  All (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
"Récits choquants, poignants, troublants, émouvants.
À lire lentement, sans hésiter !!!" ( )
  ldcosta | May 10, 2018 |
I strive desperately (from book to book) to do one and the same thing - reduce history to the human being... What must be reclaimed is the small, the personal and the specific. The single human being. The only human being for someone. Not as the state regards him, but who he is for his mother, for his wife, for his child. True to her aim, Alexievich details the Soviet government's systematic deception and neglect of its citizens and soldiers during the Soviet-Afghan war, as told to her by surviving soldiers and families. A collage of sacrifice, disillusion and heartbreak.

Interestingly, the last fifth of my edition of Boys in Zinc came with documents which detailed the trial where Alexievich was sued by some of the witnesses in her book for misconstruing their words.

Perhaps she did cherry-pick stories and change some details (and perhaps even composite stories into one) to support her own belief in the senselessness of the war or perhaps the trial was indeed a propaganda orchestrated by some powers-that-be coercing the witnesses to change their statements in order to discredit Alexievich.

I don't know.

Of course the statements must have been edited, for length, for clarity, for literary merit. Perhaps some details are not entirely accurate or perhaps downright false. But I believe in the general sentiment of the statements. That even if the details of one statement didn't actually all happen to that one witness, it happened to someone, interviewed or not. Oral history is so diaphanous, so emotionally charged, can it itself ever be truly factual, can it ever be captured factually?

That Alexievich manages to articulate such a public and private pain in a way that reduces meaningless historical statistics into stories about the individuals that we can relate to and empathise with, I find that to be more powerful than completely accurate "facts". But that might just be because this book and its version of events already conform with my preconceived ideas and this way my beliefs can go on unchallenged. ( )
  kitzyl | Feb 19, 2018 |
ZINKY BOYS has been on my to-read list for a looooong time, since I first read about it over twenty years ago. I've been curious for many years about how the Soviet soldiers who fought in the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-89) felt about their role in that long military misadventure, and what happened to its survivors. Well, now I kinda know. Because Belorussian oral historian Svetlana Alexievich just recorded their thoughts and then gave us the transcripts with very minimal editorializing. She's hardly there at all, in fact. And it's not just the soldiers who fought in that war that we get here. We also get reactions, feelings and memories from Soviet civilians who worked in Afghanistan as part of the war effort, both men and women. We get stories from wives and parents of the 'Afgantsi' (military veterans of the Afghan war). We learn of the calculated lies and deceit practiced by the Soviet government and state-run media about what was happening there, and the lasting bitterness and anger of the people affected, particularly the surviving veterans, many of them maimed and scarred, both physically and emotionally. Most of these men feel themselves to have been used and then discarded, especially the ones who came home missing limbs and having to deal with abysmally inadequate prosthetics provided by the government, as well as the stigma of having been part of a war that has since been written off as a mistake.

One segment of respondents which surprised me here were the women who served in Afghanistan, both military and civilian, people you hear little about. The doctors and nurses who tended the wounded and watched so many young men die. And there were also women who were perhaps no more than 'camp followers,' who went under the guise of librarians and clerks, but quickly set up shop on the side to 'service' the staff bureaucrats, officers and men. But the stories that were perhaps the most heartbreaking and wrenching to read were from the young wives and mothers of soldiers killed 'over there,' who were never really told exactly what happened to these 'boys' who were returned home in sealed zinc containers (hence the title, "Zinky Boys"). Some of these women were driven nearly mad with grief.

The Introduction to this edition by Larry Heinemann (author of PACO'S STORY, winner of the NBA for fiction) draws the inevitable parallels to the Vietnam War, fought by an earlier generation of Americans. The deceit, the national furor over the war, the lack of welcome for returning veterans, the lasting physical and emotional wounds and traumas - all of these things were equally true of the Soviet-Afghan war.

ZINKY BOYS is a difficult book to read. There is so much pain and anger and grief expressed in these pages, you are forced to turn away from it periodically. There are no real conclusions to be drawn, other than the old cliché that 'war is hell,' perhaps. And this war, like Vietnam, was fought mainly by very young men, between the ages of 18 and 20 - barely more than boys. Tough truths abound here. I don't really know what to say, except that Alexievich has recorded some very important stories here. She is to be commended. Very highly recommended, especially for students of military history.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the Cold War memoir, SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA ( )
  TimBazzett | Jan 2, 2018 |
Dark, disturbing and riveting. When will humanity learn not to send it's young adults to war? ( )
  hemlokgang | Oct 28, 2016 |
The Nobel committee thought that Alexievich had exposed dissent in the old Soviet union with journalism in the guise of fiction.
She presents anonymized reports from the point of view of veterans, widows, parents in a universal voice, a vernacular enhanced with historical and literary references and literary turns, and by her point of view as the narrator of grief, disillusionment, and grievance.
Her achievment is finding and relating the unique memories and forms of grief.
The introduction and jacket blurbs on this 1992 American publication of the Whitby translation (a British translation, it appears) of the 1990 original emphasize that Russian troops sent to carry out the objectives of the Soviet state in its Afghanistan adventure had the same experiences as Americans sent to Vietnam, including the sense that they had served in a "bad" war, as opposed to WW II or one of the other good wars. After the American incursion into Afghanistan in the name of the war on terror may be the gap between the language of state used to command soldiers and rationalize the adventure, and the language of memory of war. ( )
  BraveKelso | Sep 27, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alexievich, Svetlanaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berelowitch, WladimirTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bromfield, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mouravieff, ElisabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Savitski, DimitriForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From 1979 to 1989, a million Soviet troops engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan that claimed 50,000 casualties-- and the youth and humanity of many tens of thousands more. In Zinky Boys journalist Svetlana Alexievich gives voice to the tragic history of the Afghanistan War. What emerges is a story that is shocking in its brutality and revelatory in its similarities to the American experience in Vietnam-- a resemblance that Larry Heinemann describes movingly in his introduction to the book, providing American readers with an often uncomfortably intimate connection to a war that may have seemed very remote to us. The Soviet dead were shipped back in sealed zinc coffins (hence the term "Zinky Boys"), while the State denied the very existence of the conflict; even today the radically altered Soviet society continues to reject the memory of the "Soviet Vietnam." Creating controversy and outrage when it was first published in the USSR-- it was called by reviewers there a "slanderous piece of fantasy" and part of a "hysterical chorus of malign attacks"-- Zinky Boys presents the candid and affecting testimony of the officers and grunts, nurses and prostitutes, mothers, sons, and daughters who describe the war and its lasting effects. Svetlana Alexievich has snatched from the memory hole the truth of the Afghanistan War-- the beauty of the country and the savage Army bullying, the killing and the mutilation, the profusion of Western goods, the shame and shattered lives of returned veterans. Zinky Boys offers a unique, harrowing, and unforgettably powerful insight into the realities of war and the turbulence of Soviet life today.… (more)

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