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Oles Honchar: Людина і зброя (Man and Arms)

This is a well-written anti-war novel, though certainly not great literature. However, considering it is Soviet, it is interesting that it focuses on the period when the Soviets were getting beaten by the Germans in World War II and not their glorious victories. It is the story of a group of Kiev students who are suddenly called up when the Germans invade the Soviet Union and how they valiantly though unsuccessfully defend their country from the German invasion. There are several interesting pieces – a patrol that attacks and blows up a bridge behind German lines, the blowing up of the Dnieper dam and, near the end, when the patrol captures a German chemical warfare expert. What Honchar does well is focus on war as a horror – we get graphic descriptions of bloody deaths and see the girlfriends and young wives as they lose their men – without laying on the propaganda too much. Apart from the chemical warfare expert, we do not see any Germans up close so the few bad guys are the Soviets – the overenthusiastic young Communist and the mad general.

Publishing history

First published 1963 by Derzh. vyd-vo khudozh. lit-ry, Kiev
First published in English 1985 by Dnipro, Kiev
Translated by Anatole Bilenko