Rating: 2.5 out of 3
"The Last Shots", like "The Battalions are Asking for Fire", is another wonderful 'campaign novel' by renowned Russian writer, Yury Bondarev. It recounts the efforts of Captain Novikov and his subordinate officers to prevent the Germans from entering Czechoslovakia. As was the case with "The Battalions are Asking for Fire", the account of the campaign itself was excellent. I truly felt, while reading the novel, that I was an actual observer of the campaign, with mines, bullets and bombs exploding all around me. As mentioned previously, I am not a particular fan of campaign novels, but this one was written so well that I was very much captivated and engaged in the plot.
The novel's hero, Captain Novikov, was a wonderful character; very well written and someone with whom we could well identify and sympathize with. He is sketched out for us by Bondarev as a model soldier and commander, but is nonetheless, very realistic and human. We learn, throughout the novel, how Novikov had to continuously suppress many of his innate inclinations (i.e. to be kinder to the soldiers; to act his age, etc.) for the good of his battalion and in order to win the war. We were often given glimpses into Novikov's battles with conscience, and his regret for his youth, lost in the tumults of war. The following are a few excerpts from his thoughts that particularly held my attention:
"Russia", said Novikov pensively, "Only during war did I see and understand, what Russia is."
"At times, a step towards good, a striving to end the suffering of a few people right now leads to losses for which there can already be no justification."
"How many times due to the force of cruel circumstances, did he send people to places from which no one ever returned! How many times did he suffer one on one with insomnia, having learnt about the deaths of those whom he sent. But where is it; where is good in its pure form? Where? It didn't exist during war."
The novel also recounts a certain tragic romance.... Although I didn't like the heroine at all, I found soldier-in-love to have been so touching, dashing and heroic...
For the brilliant and realistic account of the campaign, and for the model, yet at the same time, realistic character of Novikov, I give this book a 2/5 out of 3.