Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II

Random. Jul. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780399588754. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780399588778. HIST
Originally published in Russian in 1985, this newly translated work by Nobel laureate in literature Alexievich (Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets) highlights the wartime experiences of children in the Soviet Union during World War II. Alexievich has noted that the preferred label for her genre is “documentary literature,” while a more mundane category might be “oral history.” Within are stories from 100 people—short glimpses into their childhood that last only a few pages—with each vignette stating the age of the person during the story as well as their adult occupation. The myriad themes cover topics such as family relations, perceptions of war, death, food shortages, poverty, travel, schooling, entertainment, and how their childhood experience impacted their adult lives.
VERDICT These stories are at once poignant and gut-wrenching, and given their scope within the longer interviews conducted by Alexievich, the author’s overall literary intent becomes clearer throughout. Readers with an interest in World War II, oral history, 20th-century history, Russian and/or Soviet history would find this well worth reading. [See Prepub Alert, 1/7/19.]

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