THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR
An Oral History of Women in World War II
By Svetlana Alexievich
331 pp. Random House. $30.
A few of the women interviewed in the late 1970s and early 1980s for “The Unwomanly Face of War,” Svetlana Alexievich’s magnificent and harrowing chronicle of Soviet women during World War II, did stay at home waiting for their men. But they are vastly outnumbered in her account by those who signed up to go to the front as pilots, nurses, surgeons, tank drivers, scouts, traffic controllers, sappers and more. As in her books about children during World War II, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Soviet-Afghan war and the Soviet Union’s collapse — a body of work for which she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 — Alexievich charts an extraordinary event through intimate interviews with its ordinary witnessesThe Alexievich of “The Unwomanly Face of War” is not all that different from the hundreds of women she interviews. After decades of the war being remembered by “men writing about men,” she aims to give voice to an aging generation of women who found themselves dismissed not just as storytellers but also as veterans, mothers and even potential wives.