Alexievich’s introduction is worth the book’s cost alone. Anyone who has ever elicited important stories or traumatic remembrances ought to read it ... Like all soldiers, they lost limbs; sanity fled their minds like messenger pigeons. They also buried brothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, and in some cases, lovers, all this recorded beautifully by Alexievich, who guides us from interview to interview in brief italicized sections. Layering the quotations, and then moving on to a new theme: fear, love, victory, remembrance ... Thousands upon thousands of them came home, and in this frightening and lacerating book — as beautiful as a ruined cathedral — Alexievich has turned their voices into history’s psalm.
This is a tough read, both emotionally and intellectually. But it would be hard to find a book that feels more important or original. There’s a visceral anger in Alexievich’s introduction that’s rare in any history book ... Tempting though it is, this is a difficult book to read in one gulp. Alexievich presents this as oral history: fragments of conversation that are not always rooted in specific events and don’t carry the dates of battles next to them. This is an incredibly powerful way of bringing history to life. These women spoke to her as friends and treated her more as confessor than journalist and historian ... Her achievement is as breathtaking as the experiences of these women are awe-inspiring.
The book is composed of oral histories Alexievich gathered in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Alexievich weaves their testimonies together until their individual voices become a haunting chorus ... In undertaking the hundreds of interviews that led to this vast, emotionally riveting account, the author wants us to consider the women’s voices ... The deceptively simple form Alexievich deploys allows for an emotional range from utter despair to a kind of transcendent hope.