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Soviet Russia Today
March, 1944

Konstantin Simonov's Short Stories


NO QUARTER by Konstantin Sirnonov
Translated by Norbert Guternian. L.B. Fischer. $2.75

THERE is a tale in this book of a group of scouts who make a night foray behind the German lines. The time is winter, the scene somewhere near the Barents Sea. A patrol craft carries these scouts across a bay, and because of the awful cold, it is necessary that they should not get wet in the landing. So one by one they are carried ashore by the sailors, hard, desperate fighters cradled in strong arms like children. And by a word or two, Simonov indicates the deep love that these men bear for each other.

That is the keynote of this book, the brotherhood and single purpose of a whole people. I've found that quality before in books about this war by Russian writers: and in that, in that quality of love and brotherhood that defies brutalization, is the keynote for an understanding of this people's war.

Simonov is a correspondent for Red Star. From the day the war in Russia began, he followed the troops, up and down two thousand miles of front, fighting with them, living with them, sleeping with them. Often, as he writes, he seems not quite sure whether he is a subjective soldier or an objective spectator: sometimes he is one, hardly ever the other, and again both. He has none of the metallic, heartless craft of many American reporters; when there is reason to be angry, he is angry – he rejoices, he hates, he exults. And through his lean and honest use of the written word, a piece of the Red Army's soul and strength is laid bare.

Simonov tells a tale of war, attack and defeat and retreat – and cold and hunger and terror, and victory too, but all of it a tale of death and of men who have dedicated themselves to destruction. And the wonder of it is that the net result is a renewed faith in the basic dignity and humanity of men.

And there is no mystery to this. The men Simonov writes of know precisely why they fight and what they fight for. They are not brave because they have a corner on this article or because they have discovered the secret of bravery, but because for them slavery has been made incompatible with life – and they know that defeat means slavery.

The stories herein are short ones, vignettes almost, violent tales. Ten men hold off a tank attack; twenty creep through the German lines. Simonov sees the detail, the incident that a soldier sees, the terror and fury and exultation of single combat. And he puts it down with simple dramatic understatement that makes each small note in a sense a work of art.

Curiously, three of the best tales in this book have appeared before in Mark Van Doran's anthology, "The Night of the Summer Solstice." If you have read them there, you will want to read more of Simonov. If you missed them, buy both books.

Thanks to Mike Bessler for this transcription.

(NB: book image was not in original article)