Cover image for Zinky boys : Soviet voices from the Afghanistan war
Zinky boys : Soviet voices from the Afghanistan war
Uniform Title:
Tı̐ Sı̐Łinkovye malÊ£chiki. English.
First American Edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.
Physical Description:
xix, 197 pages ; 25 cm.
From 1979 to 1989 a million Soviet troops engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan that claimed 50,000 casualties - and the youth and humanity of many tens of thousands more. In Zinky Boys, journalist Svetlana Alexievich gives voice to the tragic history of the Afghanistan War. What emerges is a story that is shocking in its brutality and revelatory in its similarities to the American experience in Vietnam.


Material Type
Shelf Number
Item Notes
Book 958.104 ALE 1 .SOURCE. BAKER & TAYLOR

On Order



From 1979 to 1989 a million Soviet troops engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan that claimed 50,000 casualties--and the youth and humanity of many tens of thousands more. Creating controversy and outrage when it was first published in the USSR--it was called by reviewers there a "slanderous piece of fantasy" and part of a "hysterical chorus of malign attacks"--Zinky Boys presents the candid and affecting testimony of the officers and grunts, nurses and prostitutes, mothers, sons, and daughters who describe the war and its lasting effects. What emerges is a story that is shocking in its brutality and revelatory in its similarities to the American experience in Vietnam. The Soviet dead were shipped back in sealed zinc coffins (hence the term "Zinky Boys"), while the state denied the very existence of the conflict. Svetlana Alexievich brings us the truth of the Soviet-Afghan War: the beauty of the country and the savage Army bullying, the killing and the mutilation, the profusion of Western goods, the shame and shattered lives of returned veterans. Zinky Boys offers a unique, harrowing, and unforgettably powerful insight into the realities of war.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The 1979-1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan, as Russian author Alexievich remarks in this oral history, wrenched boys from their daily life of school or college, music and discos, and hurled them into a hell of filth. She conveys that hell here through the grotesque memories of infantrymen, helicopter pilots, tank crewmen, medical corpsmen and political officers who survived the ordeal, plus those of widows and mothers of fighters--zinky boys brought home in zinc coffins. In his moving introduction, Heinemann (Close Quarters) points out the uncanny similarities between the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the American war in Vietnam. The reality of being a soldier, as this powerful book demonstrates, is everywhere dismally and remarkably the same: grueling, brutal and ugly. Most affecting are the mother scenes, especially one in which mothers of zinky boys meet regularly at a local cemetery and talk about their sons as though they are still alive. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

An affecting, often haunting, compilation of first-person testimony on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. From 1979-89, Moscow tried, unavailingly, through force of arms to support a puppet regime in a hostile land. But as those who found themselves at the sharp end of the bayonet and lived to share their grim memories with Byelorussian journalist Alexievich make clear, the state conducted the savage conflict in virtual secrecy. The ill-trained, poorly equipped teenage conscripts who did most of the fighting were told only that they were doing their international duty by defending the nation's southern borders against bandits; the realities of mortal combat with mujahideen, of course, were something else again. On the home front, grieving women were obliged to bury dead sons or husbands (who had been shipped back to the USSR in zinc coffins: hence the title) under cover of darkness in graves whose headstones offered no clues as to their untimely ends. Alexievich has traced down a host of officers, enlisted men, doctors, nurses, and civilian workers who served in Afghanistan--as well as those who waited, frequently in vain, for their safe return. Her witnesses tell their stories in brutally honest fashion, recalling the horrors of doing battle with a guerrilla foe; the shame of inflicting casualties on a civilian populace that was integral to the indigenous resistance; behind- the-lines profiteering; widespread drug abuse; how veterans preyed upon new arrivals in country; the shock of being reviled or ignored in the Soviet Union; and the anguish of bereavement without the anodyne of honor. An oral history that has considerable relevance for a superpower whose veterans and citizens are still coming to terms with the involvement in Vietnam.

Library Journal Review

The price of modern war on the character of its people is something America already knew when the decade-long Soviet involvement in Afghanistan began in 1979; any comparison, only briefly mentioned in promotional material for this work, must be supplied by the reader. The Russian aspect of these recollections, with their unfamiliar allusions (partly explained in the footnotes), does not hide a similar sense of disillusionment and suffering. Alexievich uses first-person accounts to illustrate the style of conflict the Soviet soldier faced, as well as to reveal the enormity of the betrayal of the ordinary Soviet citizen that may have contributed to the end of the U.S.S.R. A powerful, lyrical, and poignant portrait of a brutal chapter in modern history. For general reading and any military collection with a Soviet emphasis.-- Mel D. Lane, Sacramento, Cal. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.