In “Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Soviet Army, 1939-1945” Catherine Merridale offers a portrait of the Soviet soldier during the Second World War. Given the difficulties in tackling such a subject, it is a wonder that she could have succeeded at all. But succeed she does, and brilliantly at that, resulting in an excellent historical and literary accomplishment that overcomes a daunting plethora of hurdles including decades of official censorship, advancing age, and an understandable reluctance for some to revisit the horrors they endured during the conflict.
From the early days of the Soviet revolution and Stalin’s sweeping reign that created an impoverished, terrorized populace, through the initial tragedies of the German onslaught in 1941, defiant, heroic resistance and those first victories, reconquering territory in the West and seeking revenge in what Merridale describes as “an orgy of war crimes, only to find betrayal after suffering so much, Prof. Merridale adeptly guides her readers through this gripping, horrifying tragedy that begins miserably and just keeps getting worse. Merridale compels her reader, firmly, but carefully, page after page, never drifting into sentimentality nor stalling in sterile recitation.
Quite simply, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the Second World War.