In This Review

Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
By Catherine Merridale
Metropolitan Books, 2005, 480 pp

Considering the number of shelves laden with books on the Soviet Union in World War II, it may be surprising that few convey the war as experienced by the foot soldiers, tank operators, and pilots who fought it or the peasants who endured it. Merridale's chronicle is not so much of the sights and sounds of war or of the agony and gore -- although all this is there -- as it is an attempt to fathom war's meaning, effect, and legacy for the peasant boy or girl sucked from his or her village or factory dorm and sent into the maw, often ill equipped and ill trained, to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with comrades who sometimes came from ethnic worlds apart, to master war's forms and tools, to do war's awful deeds, and then to somehow resume a normal life at war's close. Not surprisingly, she finds it difficult to penetrate the psychological shields war veterans erected. Nonetheless, she succeeds admirably in fashioning a compelling portrait, helped immensely by her talent as a writer.