Thursday, May 21, 2009

CWL---Off Topic: Classic Literature on Stalingrad

Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, William Craig, Readers Digest Press, 462pp, 1973.

Craig's 1973 book is a fine non-fiction account of the Stalingrad Campaign. It's title was taken for use by the producers of the 2001 Paramount Pictures film staring: Joseph Fiennes, Jude Law, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins and Ron Perlman. The book contains the story of Vaselli Zaitsev and Tania Chernova, Russian snipers and a duel with a master German sniper. Craig cautions that the duel may have the the creation of the Communist war propaganda bureaucracy, but the essential facts of Zaitsev and Chernova are available in documents and interviews. Craig's discussion covers about 20 pages throughout the book.

Craig's Enemy at the Gates was republished by Penguin Press in 2000 with cover artwork from the film. The film was probably from David L. Robbins 1999 novel War of the Rats. Robbins' plot is generally the same as the movie but the movie carries the name of Craig's non-fiction book.

Craig's Enemy At the Gates is a fine history that strength of which is the reliance upon interviews with the survivors of the campaign. Russians, Germans, Italians, and Romanians were interviewed. Craig's book contains startling stories from the front line soldiers to those at headquarters. Amazing accounts of cannibalism, burning wounded prisoners in their hospitals and the floor-to-floor fighting of the campaign unique. Headquarters' strategy and battlefield tactics are presented in the words of the participants. There is no doubt that Hitler carries the blame for not breaking von Paulus' army out of the kesseland that Goering the diaster of not keeping the German army supplied.

David L. Robbins' War of the Rats, 392 pages
Bantam hardcover edition, 1999 handles admirably the dual tasks of storytelling and staying close to history. Those who read historical fiction will be well satisfied by Robbins' character driven sharpshooter's dual in Stalingrad. Tania Chernova in Craig's history is truly a remarkable character who begins the campaign as one person and by the end of it is some else. Her episode of crawling through Stalingrad's public sewers to reach the Russian line shows her capacity to endure. Indeed of the two others that start the trek with her, one suffocates in the sewer lines. Robbins reinforces the Chernova's true story with enough reliance on his imagination to create a strong character who is not a stereotype of a woman among men at war. There is a striking similarity between the novel and the film. CWL is not sure if the film and the novel were started at the same year, 1998. Both did use Craig's Enemy at the Gates as a source document. For a good introduction to Stalingrad look for Voices from Stalingrad by John Bastable which CWL covered March 1 2009.

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