Russia Is Burning: Poems of the Great Patriotic War
edited by Maria Bloshteyn
Smokestack Books, £13.99 pb, 476 pp
The invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 1941 caused massive destruction over a huge area. The number of deaths is uncertain, though a figure of around twenty-seven million is now widely accepted. The lives of many more millions were affected – as soldiers, as workers in war-related industries, as civilians in besieged and occupied territories, as refugees – and the experience of hardship and self-sacrifice in what is widely referred to in Russia as the ‘Great Patriotic War’ or the ‘Great Fatherland War’ continues to dominate the Russian historical narrative.
The personal experience of the Soviet Union’s war has become well known in the West from works such as Vasily Grossman’s A Writer at War (2005) and Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War (2017). What is perhaps less known is the extent to which the Great Fatherland War was also a literary and specifically poetic phenomenon, parallel in some ways to World War I in English literature. Maria Bloshteyn’s major bilingual anthology makes the significance of this verse legacy plain. This is writing valuable not only for its historical significance, but also for the depth and range of human emotion that it encompasses.