Book of da Week: Yuri Bondarev’s The Last Shots

Yuri Bondarev The Last Shots
Yuri Bondarev – The Last Shots.

We have an obscure book this week from a largely forgotten author. Yuri Bondarev’s the Last Shots is a novella on World War II, largely considered from the perspective of young Russian soldier Captain Novikov.

Mr. Wapojif happened across the Last Shots in an independent bookstore in the backstreets of London in January 2004. He doesn’t normally buy books based on front covers, but this was £3 and looked interesting (the copy is clearly quite ancient and is barely holding together). Quite the lucky find! Not only is Bondarev’s work extremely rare, it’s also quietly brilliant.

The Last Shots

Bondarev (now 91) fought during World War II and went on to become a journalist and author after the war. In a small section on the inside cover, L. Lazarev (from the Literaturnaya Gazeta) states the book was released in Russia in 1959 and became a bestseller. It appears to have reached other areas of the world by 1970, but for many years there was pretty much no information about Bondarev online (or in public libraries).

The story offers a detailed psychological character study of two young individuals caught up in conflict: the highly endearing Captain Novikov and the empathetic field nurse Lena. Initially hostile toward one another, they begin to grow a mutual respect before, like, totally falling head over heels.

This isn’t a soppy love story, it’s a genuine and heartfelt examination of human connections during a time of immense strife. This is where the Last Shots stands out compared to other war novels – it really unearths the personalities of the people caught up in war. Novikov meets genuinely likeable comrades whom the reader grows to like, such as the irrepressible Alyoshin with his youthful verve and sense of humour, all amid the backdrop of nightmarish death and destruction.

As L. Lazarev describes it his concise introduction to the text:

“[Bondarev} scored his greatest success in his two central personages: Captain Novikov, a wonderful young man, almost a boy, who commands a battery of guns, and Lena, the girl he loves, who is a field nurse. These personages are warm and charming, and the love of these young people to whom war has presented a few moments of happiness is pure and unconquerable. If I were to name the salient feature of The Last Shots, I would say without hesitation: Humanity.”

There is, of course, the unavoidable fact it’s set in World War II, although the bigger picture of the conflict isn’t really considered. Novikov and his company largely battle over a small area of land, but the battles are bloody, frightening, and intense, with Bondarev honing them down to terrific detail.

As a result, the Last Shots is an enthralling and impressive little book which should be considered a classic alongside the likes of All Quiet on the Western Front and Storm of Steel (both set in WWI), but somehow it’s been lost to time. Thankfully, we stumbled across it one random day in January 2004, central London, and can relay its excellence to you here. Hurrah!

Finding a Copy

How can you get a copy of the Last Shots? Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it on Amazon, or eBay, in the UK after a brief search online. Heck, the world’s a big place though, and there are bound to be thousands of old copies kicking around. Try a local city centre library or some independent bookstores (where we found the thing) and pick up this gem quickly. Indeed!

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