I Read, and Reflect Upon the Horrors of War

 

Enemy

Before my new semester starts, I’m back with a book I bought four days ago and just finished now:

Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad* by William Craig

“On New Year’s Eve, discipline in the revitalized Sixty-second Army relaxed and, along the shore, high-ranking Soviet officers held a series of parties to honor actors, musicians, and ballerinas visiting Stalingrad to entertain the troops. One of the troupe members, violinist Mikhail Goldstein, stayed away and went instead into the trenches to perform another of his one-man concerts for the soldiers [….] The horrible battlefield shocked Goldstein and he played as he never played before, hour after hour for men who obviously loved his music. And while all German works had been banned by the Soviet government, Goldstein doubted that any commissar would protest on New Year’s Eve. The melodies he created drifted out through the loudspeakers to the German trenches and the shooting suddenly ceased. In the eerie quiet, the music flowed from Goldstein’s dipping bow. When he finished, a hushed silence hung over the Russian soldiers. From another loudspeaker, in German territory, a voice broke the spell. In halting Russian it pleaded: ‘Play some more Bach. We won’t shoot.’ Goldstein picked up his violin and started a lively Bach Gavotte.”

Enemy at the Gates is a historical account of the Battle of Stalingrad which was written by a man who spent five years researching his material, traveling across continents and interviewing hundreds of Stalingrad survivors from the German, Russian, and Italian sides of the war.

This book is horrible. Not horrible in the sense that it is horribly-written. Quite the opposite. Instead, the book gains its horror from the author’s meticulousness in documenting various experiences of the battle. In the introduction, you are told that Stalingrad resulted in a massive death-count, and the author cites easily-forgettable statistics. Then you read on. You learn how the fates of so many depended on the decisions of incompetent leaders and broken bureaucracies, you read in precise and unforgiving detail about the suffering of people on both sides of the conflict, and you can no longer forget.

The blurb on the book’s cover says it’s a “haunting reading experience,” which is absolutely true. In the beginning, you wind up feeling sorry for the Russians. In the middle, you wind up feeling sorry for the Germans. In the end, you wind up feeling sorry for both sides and wishing wars didn’t exist– the Battle of Stalingrad drove people to insanity, suicide, and cannibalism.

Needless to say, the book does not make for light reading. However, it does make for powerful and important reading. If you can bring yourself to confront the horrors within, you will come out the other side with a massively-enriched perspective on life.

*To some of you, this book’s title might sound familiar. If so, you might be thinking of the Jude Law movie, “Enemy at the Gates” which this book partially inspired. The movie has a fantastic soundtrack, but the inclusion of a love triangle seems to me to cheapen its impact. Better to read the book.

In the coming months, I may be unable to post with regularity due to a huge workload, but I will likely be able to post some. Keep an eye out for future reviews and thoughts. In the meantime, if you’ve read the book or seen the movie, I ‘d love to hear your thoughts.

 

5 thoughts on “I Read, and Reflect Upon the Horrors of War

  1. Dear Ms. Ranucci,
    As a librarian I read book reviews on a regular basis. Your review on Enemy at The Gates ranks as one of the most riveting and beautifully written reviews that I have ever read. It has inspired me to read the book.

    Ms. Zinman

    Like

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