I hated this book. Not because it’s a poor, badly written load of tosh about something of no significance – it isn’t. It’s a fine book. I hated it because it’s like a smack in the teeth. Arkady Babchenko’s prose is raw and uncut and his subject matter is one of the most terrible wars in the world – and without a doubt the most under-reported.
One Soldier’s War in Chechnya, translated beautifully by Nick Allen, is Babchenko’s autobiographical account of how, as a young law student, he was conscripted for the first war between Russia and Chechnya in 1995. He was beaten up by the older soldiers, starved, then shot at and terrorised by the Chechens. His father’s funeral granted him a reprieve but he fell ill and was rushed to hospital. As a result, he was charged with desertion and thrown into a penal battalion. Finally, when the authorities accepted that there was no evidence against him, he was let free.
Having been to Chechnya twice – on frantically hurried day trips, smuggled in under the Russians’ noses – I have great sympathy for the atrocious suffering of the Chechens. They are mountain people and have kept their ancient, strange language and customs where most others have succumbed to the Russian