The Dawns Here Are Quiet

Perhaps it's something to do with Mars, but the stars wheeled round just right and I got a whole hour with the television and no kids last night so I started "The Dawns Here Are Quiet" on Amazon Prime.

I was really impressed. It's hard to find good WW2 Eastern Front stuff.

The setup is Summer of 1942, on the Karelia Peninsula north of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). The main character is a sergeant who was invalided out of front line duty thanks to wounds sustained in The Winter War (called that because "Stalin's War to Gobble Up Finland While Everyone Is Distracted By Germany and Japan" is a bit of a mouthful).

He's in charge of a couple of anti-aircraft guns guarding a crossroads village on the supply line to Leningrad (which was under siege from 1941 to 44 at the cost of a million civilian lives, near as anyone can figure). It's kind of a rest area for the front line troops, they go back and recuperate in the quiet of the village. Our sergeant's problem is there's moonshine vodka and plenty of widows in the village, and that leads to fistfights. He complains to his major that for once couldn't he get some soldiers that won't get drunk and cause trouble with the village women. His major appreciates his difficulties and sends him a squad of women (several of them have seen far more action than he has). He tries his best to get along with them, feeling unmanned and ashamed that they've done so much more in defense of the Motherland than he has. Then one day, German paratroopers appear in the woods . . .

Beautiful scenery in a part of the world that isn't much known and the characters are wonderful. The village is right out of WW2 photographs, lots of little details that showed the care that went into this. You learn about the people through extended flashbacks, which seems to be the mode now for TV storytelling. There's a strong author voice narration which took a little getting used to (imagine "Amelie" narrated by a depressed fatalist) but the narrator's observations are original and interesting, seems Russians do that sort of thing with the ease of falling off a log. It's grippingly realistic, much more so than Bondarchuck's big-budget Stalingrad. I have a feeling we're heading for a Rogue One ending, though.

I want to read the novel now but unfortunately it hasn't been translated since 1978, is utterly unavailable — even from Abe books — and I'm not sure my Russian is up to the job any more. Maybe it would be good for me to slog through it, I dunno.


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