One Soldier's War is a visceral and unflinching memoir of a young Russian soldier's experience in the Chechen wars that brilliantly captures the fear, drudgery, chaos, and brutality of modern combat. An excerpt of the book was hailed by Tibor Fisher in the Guardian as right up there with Catch-22 and Michael Herr's Dispatches, and the book won Russia's inaugural Debut Prize, which recognizes authors who write despite, not because of, their life circumstances.
In 1995 Arkady Babchenko was an 18-year-old law student in Moscow when he was drafted into the Russian army and sent to Chechnya. It was the beginning of a torturous journey from naïve conscript to hardened soldier that took Babchenko from the front lines of the first Chechen War in 1995 to the second in 1999. He fought in major cities and tiny hamlets, from the bombed-out streets of Grozny to anonymous mountain villages. Babchenko takes the raw and mundane realities of war - the constant cold, hunger, exhaustion, filth, and terror - and twists them into compelling, haunting, and eerily elegant prose. Acclaimed by reviewers around the world, this is a devastating first-person account of war by an extraordinary storyteller.
©2006 Arkady Babchenko. Translation copyright 2007 by Nick Allen. Recorded by arrangement with Grove Atlantic, Inc. (P)2014 Audible Inc.
Inostrancevia - the uber Gorgonopsian.
All I can say, after listening to this audiobook, is that I thank all of the panoply of the gods that I was not born a Russian male in, say, 1979 and would have been subject to call up for the Chechen Wars of the 1990's. What Mr. Babchenko went through while serving in the Russian Army was abjectly horrific, depressing and violent - and that was before he even heard a shot fired in anger by the Chechens.
To say that the Russian Army is a brutal organization where its recruits are subject to a degree of harassment by NCO's and "short timers" is like saying Genghis Khan and Adolph Hitler made life slightly unpleasant for Europeans during their respective careers. In other words, Mr. Basbchenko and his fellow squad mates basically spent half of their enlistment period either getting the shit beat out of them, preparing to get the shit beat out of them, rceovering from getting the shit beat out of them or trying to avoid getting the shit beat out of them day in and day out in a seemingly endless cycle of physical and mental abuse perpetrated by a cadre of heroine addicted NCO deadbeats who can only be described as sadistic bastards and bullies who got off on terrorizing their underlings and knew they were not subject to reprimand from above.
Honestly, I am surprised that the soldiers of the Russian Army ever got around to fighting the Chechen separatists at all because it seems that they spent most of the time either hammered on bad vodka they obtained from some Chechen teenager in exchange for boxes of assault gun ammunition that would inevitably be passed on to the Chechen forces, or they were busy devising new and creative ways to beat the snot out of some skinny, pigeon chested recruit from the ass end of Southern Nowhereski near Smolensk. Put it this way, the author describes an incident he witnessed when two guys accused of trading ammunition for vodka were punched and kicked into unconsciousness by a couple of NCO's, then tied up to improvised racks - you know those medieval torture devices - and then used as target practice in the middle of the military camp, i.e. smack dab in the center of the parade grounds within easy viewing of the colonel in charge of the camp's office. Now, I am not saying the guys who traded ammo for booze should not have been punished. What they did endangered the lives of the men in their unit in a big way and they needed to be dealt with severely. I just can't envision this degree of unsanctioned punishment being duplicated in, say, some US Army forward camp in Afghanistan. It just goes to show the gulf that exists between Russia and pretty much every other "civilized" State when it comes to military culture and basic respect for the men and women who serve.
Mr. Babchenko stepped up like the man he is and wrote a brutally honest account of his experiences. I bought this audiobook last night and just finished listening to it and I must tell you, fair review reader, that this book impacted me deeply, and I am not exactly what you might call a "lilting lily" kind of individual. His accounts of the operations he participated in and the tragic cost in human life among his comrades, his opponents and civilians who were caught in the crossfire or rocket barrage reaffirmed General Sherman's bare bones description of war, ".........it is all moonshine, War is Hell." l give Mr. Babchenko utmost respect for writing this book.
To close this review - GET THIS AUDIOBOOK! I wish I had more words in my quiver to describe what I just listened to. This audiobook still has me shaking my head in a numbed..... I can't really describe the feeling. Just get this audiobook and you will know what I mean.
This book tackles the complexities of warfare from a personal perspective. As a combat veteran I appreciate a similar thought model in processing the violent nature of warfare. However, from a global perspective it is fascinating to learn more about an unfamiliar conflict.
Descriptive and thorough memoir of a Russian volunteer soldier in the Chechnya conflict in the 1990s. Incredible to me how grossly unprepared, untrained, and vulnerable the Russian side was in this war. And so willing they were to allow for the casualties and carnage that ensued. Horrific example of military leadership is described. I felt much sorrow for those who died there or came home physically and emotionally maimed.
This book is a very strong revealing testament to the Russian experience of war, both during training and fighting. It's a hauntingly stark, but captivating read of a Russian Soldier's experience in the Chechen war. Beware, this book is not for the squeamish, and it will stick with you for a long time. A substantial part the book deals with the author's experiences behind the front lines, waiting to be sent to war. It's during this time that Russia is extremely hard on her own soldiers. There were periods during the book that I had to remind myself that these events happened not during WW2, but in the 1980s-90s.
The complete lack of any discipline, the outright barbarism and the total corruption of this rag-tag gang posing as an army is shocking, disturbing, and in all ways gruesome. Combine this with the futility of a war fought for unclear reasons far from home, in an inhospitable country against a fierce and cruel enemy, and you have Babchenko's experience as an 18-year old boy.
The narrator did an excellent job and told the story perfectly.
Overall: Superb; and one of the best war memoirs I've read. Babchenko's account realistically reveals the modern Russian army and its wars in Chechnya--but fundamentally his perspective rings true for soldiers' experiences of every nation and every generation.
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