Taissia Petrovna Rudenko-Sheveleva, WWII Company Commander, the Moscow Fleet

A woman in the navy . . . that was something forbidden, even unnatural. People thought it would be bad luck for a ship . . .  In our village the women teased my mother to death: what did you give birth to — a girl or a boy? I wrote a letter to Voroshilov himself, asking to be accepted in the Leningrad Artillery School. They accepted me only on his personal order. The only girl.

When I finished the school, they still wanted me to stay on dry land. Then I stopped telling them I was a woman . . . on one occasion, I gave myself away. I was scrubbing the deck, suddenly heard a noise, and turned around: a sailor was chasing a cat that had ended up on the ship, no one knew how. There was a belief, probably from the earliest times, that cats and women bring bad luck at sea. The cat didn’t want to quit the ship, and its dodges would have been the envy of a world-class football player. The whole ship was laughing. But when the cat nearly fell into water, I got frightened and screamed. And it was evidently such a girlish treble that the men’s laughter stopped at once. Silence fell.

I heard the commander’s voice: “Watchman, is there a woman on board?”

“No, sir, Comrade Commander.”

Panic again. There was a woman on board.

. . .  I was the first woman to be a commissioned officer in the navy. During the war I was in charge of arming the ships and the naval infantry.

  • — from an oral interview in Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War (Penguin Books), translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Svetlana Alexievich: Women, War

“I observed more than once how in their conversations the small overrode the great, even history.” — Svetlana Alexievich

“It’s a pity that I was beautiful only during the war . . .  My best years were spent there. Burned up. Afterward I aged quickly . . . ” — Anna Galai, submachine gunner

Antonina Mironovna Lenkova, Car Mechanic

Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War is such powerful oral history (It’s taking self forever to get through; she can’t help poring over each interview).

Antonina Mironovna Lenkova:

My passion was books. I sobbed over the novels of Lidia Charskaya, read and re-read Turgenev.

Note by the author:

  • Lidia Charskaya (1875 – 1938) was an actress at the prestigious Alexandrinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and a prolific writer of popular fiction. Her work was officially banned in 1920.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Reading Svetlana Alexievich, After Returning from the British Library

Self saw the exhibit Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms at the British Library this morning. Despite the fact that she got there practically at opening, the exhibit was very crowded. And she is short. And all the people between her and the display cases seemed very tall. Nevertheless, she is glad she went. On one wall is a quote, dating from the late 11th century. Which is to say, after the Norman Conquest. She forgot to note the identity of the writer, but guesses it must have been a monk:

Nothing has gone well for a long time now. There has been harrying and hunger, burning and bloodshed.

She returned to her rooms and resumed reading Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history of Russian women soldiers: The Unwomanly Face of War. From the essay that begins the book (A Human Being Is Greater Than War):

‘Women’s’ war has its own colors, its own smells, its own lighting, and its own range of feelings. Its own words . . . And it is not only they (people) who suffer, but the earth, the birds, the trees.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Another Novel-in-Progress, Found

This one takes place in the Philippines during World War II.

The working title is Farm and Mountain:

Four days later, the enkargado took Honorato to the mountains.

It was almost too late. From across the narrow strait separating them from the neighboring island of Panay, smoke had been rising, for days. The Zeros had made straight for the fuel depots in Iloilo.

243 pp.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Bataan Peninsula, 1942

Looking through her bookshelves, self never runs short of reading material.

Reading Face of Empire: United States-Philippine Relations, 1898 – 1946, by Frank Hindman-Golay:

On January 1942, “a quartermaster inventory revealed that food stocked on the peninsula comprised a thirty-day supply of unbalanced rations for one-hundred thousand men . . . This shortfall was serious enough, but it was compounded by the existence of eighty-thousand USAFFE troops and twenty-six thousand civilians on Bataan . . . The success of Japanese arms in the first month of the war left little prospect that USAFFE could be supplied from the outside. On January 5, MacArthur ordered the troops and civilians on Bataan reduced to half-rations. At this rate, the USAFFE stocks would be exhausted in less than two months . . .

“. . .  most critical was the failure to deal with malaria. One medical officer serving on Bataan later estimated that 95 percent of all those on the peninsula during the first quarter of 1942 contracted the disease.

“To prevent the debilitating consequences of this mosquito-carried disease, the entire defense force should have been taking quinine or some substitute drug. But the supply of such drugs on Bataan was so short that they were reserved for the treatment of active cases of malaria. As a result, the rate of infection increased steadily as the disease was transmitted from those already infected.

In late March, General Wainwright “reported to Washington that food on Bataan would last only until April “at one-third ration, poorly balanced and very deficient in vitamins . . . The troops will be starved into submission.”

The Bataan peninsula fell in April 1942. Corregidor was able to hold on one month longer. There were 12,000 people on Corregidor, as opposed to 100,000-plus on the Bataan Peninsula. And when Bataan fell, this is how the people on Corregidor knew it: there was a deathly silence from across the water, instead of the constant sound of artillery barrages. And then smoke began to rise.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

6 June 1944: Manderley Forever, p. 170

Self’s rate of reading has picked up quite a bit.

It’s the war, and Daphne Du Maurier has secluded herself in her beloved Menabilly while her husband Tommy gets himself promoted to lieutenant general but still travels everywhere with his “eight favorite teddy bears.” He signs his letters to his wife “with all the love a man’s heart can hold.”

On June 6, 1944, Daphne gets a call from her sisters, who tell her that “while they were taking care of their tomatoes for the Women’s Land Army, they noticed that, by evening, there was not a single American ship in the bay.”

Operation Market Garden, “the biggest airborne operation of the war,” is about to start, and Daphne’s Tommy has expressed his doubts about the operation to General Bernard Montgomery in no uncertain terms: “We might be going a bridge too far, sir.”

At the bridge at Arnhem, “seventeen thousand soldiers are killed.”

At this point, her husband is 47 years old. He earned a medal for valor at just 19, he has served in the military for almost 20 years and the experience has gutted him.

It reminds self of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, that novel’s main character could never recover from what he witnessed at Vietnam, things so unspeakable.

But Daphne goes on writing. She writes a play that reminds self of The Return of Martin Guerre (great, great short novel by Janet Lewis. Self feels like re-reading it, even just so she can get to that last line, which totally shattered her) A wife loses her husband at sea, manages to forge a new life, and falls in love with another man. Then her husband returns. That’s a good trope.

“At the end of 1944,” Daphne’s husband becomes Lord Mountbatten’s chief of staff in Ceylon and . . .  Daphne begins writing her next book.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Hypothesis: In the Lake of the Woods, p. 170

Here are her frustrations with this novel:

  • The main character is deeply troubled, and his wife is long-suffering.
  • His campaign manager is a walking cliché of everything that was wrong with male entitlement before the #metoo movement (He constantly makes sexist remarks about the  main character’s wife in front of the husband and the wife and no one tells him to shut up)
  • My Lai is dealt with in a very blunt manner.

Here are the reasons self is glad she is still reading:

  • My Lai is dealt with in a very blunt manner.
  • She is reminded of The Nuremberg Principles (NOT fake news)
  • The hypothesis chapters — brilliant chapters, just brilliant. When O’Brien is in Kath’s head, it’s clear he is no mysogynist, and his feeling for the landscape is intense. Also, Kath being lost and thinking rationally about her situation and struggling to become un-lost all by herself is heartbreaking. First rule of nature: As soon as one is lost, stop moving, take shelter, and wait to be found. (Self is far from the outdoorsy type so she can see herself getting considerably more lost, just as Kath does in the novel)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Poetry Monday: U Sam Oeur Again

from Exodus

— translated from the Cambodian by Ken McCullough

Once the Blackcrows had usurped the power
they started to evacuate people from Phnom Penh
they threw patients through hospital windows
(women in labor and the lame), drove tanks
over them then bulldozed them under.

The poem Exodus is part of the collection Sacred Vows, a bilingual edition of U Sam Ouer’s poetry, published by Coffee House Press.

This is self’s companion reading to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, O’Brien’s stories about his experiences as a grunt during the Vietnam War.

O’Brien and U Sam Oeur, in Southeast Asia at roughly the same time, each oblivious of the other. But afterward, what great literature they both produced.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2nd Sentence of the Day: “The Ghost Soldiers”

Self’s only quibble, three pages in, is that she wishes they had dropped the word ‘The’ in front of ‘Ghost Soldiers.’

But, she can feel it in her bones: this will be a good story. When O’Brien is firing on all cylinders, he is never ‘just ‘good,’ he is great.

“So when I got shot the second time, in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong, it took the son of a bitch almost ten minutes to work up the nerve to crawl over me.”

Whereas the previous medic came “every so often, maybe four times altogether” to check on the narrator — in the middle of “a wild fight.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

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