We usually think of wars as something that men do. Boys play with toy soldiers and toy guns, and play with real things when they get older, right? But women have been fighting in wars throughout history. We just don't know their stories. We know the stories of men. The women remain in the background, mostly silent, occasionally telling the stories of the war from the accepted 'manly' perspective. Until now."Everything that we know about the war we were told by men. We are the prisoners of "manly" impressions and "manly" experiences of war. "Manly" words. Women always remain silent, and if they suddenly begin to speak they tell not about their war but the war of others. Adjust to the language that is not theirs. Adjust to the unbreakable canon of men[...]We think we know everything about the war. But listening to these women - from villages and cities, simple and educated, those who saved the wounded and those who wounded the others - I can attest that this is not true. A big misconception. There is another war, unfamiliar to us. I want to write the story of that war. The story of women's war... "Svetlana Alexievich, the journalist who brought us the books of witness accounts of Chernobyl nuclear explosion and stories of children who lived through the World War II brings us the true accounts of women who fought in the Great Patriotic War between the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany. This is a sad and often terrifying account of the war that was also fought by women in the midst of men, in the world that was not prepared for women soldiers. And, as though in defiance of the common dismissal of women's "feelings" and "lack of objectivity" this book focuses exactly on that - the feelings and colors and smells and all the other (often dismissed as trite) things that create the fabric of our experience of the world instead of battles and strategic planning. It brings the "women's war" to the long-overdue forefront."At the age of nineteen I had a medal "For courage". At the age of nineteeen, my hair turned grey. At the age of nineteen in my last battle I was shot through both lungs, the bullet went in between two vertebrae. My legs were paralysed... They thought I was dead... At the age of nineteen... My granddaughter is this age now. I look at her in disbelief. Such a child!" What I found unbelievably sad was the reluctance of many of these women to talk about what happened. While their fathers and husbands and brothers were proud of their veteran status, flaunting medals and stories about battles, most of these women preferred to stay in the background, acting like good wives and mothers, avoiding painful memories of having lived the "unwomanly" lives for the war years. Unwomanly lives. That's the perception. That's often the stigma they had to face."We're walking... About 200 girls, and behind us 200 men. It's hot. The summer is hot. And we have to walk 30 kilometers. Thirty! The heat is terrible... And behind us there are red stains on the sand... Red stains... Well, our women's thing, you know... How could we hide that? The soldiers follow us and pretend that they don't see it. They are not looking at the ground..."The things that men did not have to face when they joined the troops was the lack of basics. Like having to wear size 43 boots when you wore size 35, falling out of shoes and having too-big shoes fill with blood from blisters. Like uniforms not coming with bras. Like having to wear men's underwear that you were falling out of. Like having your menstrual period in the middle of long marches. Like being sexually harassed (not all of course; there seem to have been way more camaraderie and support on the front lines, but the ugliness was still there). Like being pregnant and fighting battles. Like being treated as inferior and incompetent because of your gender. Like having to drown your newborn child so that the baby's cries would not disclose the location of your partisan troop to the surrounding Germans."Somebody betrayed us... The Germans learned the location of our partisan troop. They surrounded the forest from all sides. We were hiding in the deep woods, hiding in the swamps where the torturers did not go [...] A radio operator was with us. She gave birth recently. The baby was hungry... Wanting the breast... But the mother is starving, she has no milk, and the baby is crying. The Germans are nearby... With dogs... If the dogs hear the baby, we're all dead. All of us - thirty people... Do you understand? We make a decision... Nobody dares to tell her the commader's order, but the mother guesses it herself. She puts the bundle with the baby into the water and holds it there for a long time... The baby does not cry... Not a sound... And we cannot lift our eyes. We cannot look at the mother or at each other..."Men, unlike these brave women, did not have to face the scalding social opinion. The thought that the only reason you went to the battlefields was because you were a whore who wanted male attention, who wanted to steal male soldiers from their spouses. The common attitude towards the women who came back from the battlefields as 'ruined', 'sluts', not-quite-women. The desire of men who have fought a war alongside of you and treated you like a comrade to date and marry somebody else, somebody not like you, not tainted by war, somebody girly and flighty and innocent while you were nothing but a painful reminder of things they wanted to forget. The pressure from your husbands to not "mess up" telling the war stories, to tell them to the journalist in the "proper", "manly" way, without all that "girly" stuff that would, of course, shame the manly husbands."After my insistent requests [the husband] reluctantly gave up the spotlight with the words [to his wife], "Tell everything the way I taught you. Without tears and girly insignificant stuff: I wanted to be beautiful, I cried when they cut off my hair". Later, she confessed to me, whispering, "All night, he was studying the 'History of the Great Patriotic War' with me. He was worried about me. And he's afraid now that I will remember the wrong thing. That I will tell it not the way I'm supposed to."This happened many times, in many different homes. Yes, they cry a lot. They scream. After I leave, they swallow their heart pills. Call the ambulance. But they keep asking me, "Please, come. Definitely come. We've been silent for so long. We were silent for forty years..." And yet, despite the horror, despite everything, these young women chose to fight for their country, for their loved ones, for their future. They chose to leave behind their parents, their siblings, their spouses and children ("For the entire last night I was kneeling by the baby's crib...") to fight the war. Making it the women's war. And these are the stories I want to remember for the rest of my life. "When the war was over, I wished for three things: first - I finally will not have to crawl around on my belly but will ride in a trolleybus, second - to buy and eat an entire loaf of white bread, and third - to sleep in a white bed, on crispy sheets. White sheets..."These are the chilling stories of women who did what they thought of as their duty despite the pain and humiliations and reluctance and negative judgment, and survived to tell about it. These are the stories that made me tear up quite a few times and put the book down as I stared at the wall trying to wrap my head around the horror I just read. I recommend it to everybody in this world that seems to jump to wars so easily without realizing the enormous cost of it. These are the stories that the Soviet censors were extremely reluctant to send to print. 5 heartbreaking stars.-----------------------------Today, June 22nd, is the 61st anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic war between the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany. It's a sad day.