In This Review

Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-1989
Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-1989
By Rodric Braithwaite
432 pp, Oxford University Press, USA, 2011

Compassionate yet critical, this is the most comprehensive portrait of the morass Soviet leaders got themselves and their army into when they invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Braithwaite was the British ambassador to the Soviet Union during the last two years of the war and the first two years of its messy aftermath. Like a film director zooming in on details and then pulling away to survey the larger scene, he captures the misery of war in Afghan villages and valleys, along with the confused deliberations in the halls of the Kremlin, while not losing sight of the war’s effect on Soviet society, especially the badly damaged military. Afgantsy is the Russian term for the Soviet soldiers who fought the war, and Braithwaite recounts many of their individual stories with special empathy. His book is a big, vibrant canvas painted with skill and humanity.