By Ales Adamovich
By Richard E. Noble
This book is tragically exhausting, not just for the main characters but for the reader.
The pain and suffering are overwhelming. The physical effort is beyond endurance. And the reader feels it all, every step of the way, page after page.
I think that was probably the author’s focal point in writing the book.
The main characters are constantly on the go … trekking. They are starving. Their hardships are superhuman yet real and not doubted for a second.
It reads like nonfiction. The main characters are physically weak. They are exhausted. But they keep going … and going … and going … and going … and going.
They are involved in a cause in which they are outnumbered and overwhelmed. But they endure.
The cause is apparently the war but in truth, it is survival. They endure because they must.
The reader keeps asking himself how this man can keep going. How can all these people keep going. Why don’t they all just lay down and die?
And this was the Nazi’s psychological intent. Make the enemy want to die. Make him want to give up, quit the fight and surrender. But the persecuted were all too aware that to surrender was to die. They would be tortured and killed whatever choice they made.
So they must persist.
This is a horror story and you are there to witness it all. You see it through the very, cold, war weary eyes of the main characters in the partisan army and the suffering masses around them.
The account is almost devoid of passion. Instead it is filled with endurance.
Again, I think this is also part of the author’s intent. He wants the reader to witness it as he saw it … as they all saw it. He wants the reader to see the senseless persistence in the midst of hopelessness, accepted slaughter, murder and senseless human brutality.
This is the story of war and the atrocities that inevitably come with it. It is the story of burnt and destroyed villages, of tortured, unarmed men, women and children who are murdered in the most horrible, cruel and senseless manner.
There is a love story mixed in with this war of horror but it is secondary. It hardly deals with love. There is the involvement of one man and one woman but it is all mental. There is no sex or romance to it. But it helps to make the book human and tolerable.
The main story is the war and the shock and dehumanization of it all. The reader is torn between the conflicting emotions of wanting to put the book up and stop reading and the moral necessity to turn the next page.
In every war the soldiers’ bodies are tabulated but it is always the civilian population with the majority of casualties.
Belarus in Russia is the setting. The main characters are all a part of the partisan resistance. They are a small but dedicated group. But for every minor victory they achieve, the Nazis repay ten fold.
I’ve read many true historical accounts of this area and the treason, slaughter and massacres involved. The German Nazis and their killer extermination policies are behind everything but they get lots of help.
The Nazis are not just German but traitors and sycophants from the ranks of the local villagers who sold their souls to the devil for the opportunity to vent their hate on their neighbors.
The book does not elaborate on this treason. It concentrates on the actual war experiences of one man and one woman and the small band of partisan, anti-Nazi resisters they are a part of.
I’ve read more non-fiction accounts of the atrocities of World War II than I have novels and fiction. There is truly very little fiction involved here. The author elaborated on the plot and the details, but the facts of the slaughter of Khatyn and Belarus are all detailed and recorded in the historical archives of the war.
The actual history can be even more gruesome. But in a novel such as this, written by someone who was there and experienced it all firsthand, and then creatively fictionalized the events, a different dimension is added.
In my non-fiction reading, I never felt the hopelessness, or the raw spirit of survival or the exhaustion.
I was expecting the hero and the heroine to simply lie down and die at some point. What was the sense to it? Who was there to come to the rescue? Nobody. It was all on their shoulders.
This is one of those books that we would all rather not read but once we have finished it we feel a sense of achievement.
Read it and weep.
The reader will have to be the one to weep because the participants had reached a point where tears were impossible. They had none to offer.
They just stand and stare.