One Soldier's War In Chechnya

Arkady Babchenko

Published: 1 June 2008
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 304 pages
ISBN: 9781846270406


'I always thought that war was black and white. But it is colour.' This is a compulsively readable, autobiographical account of life as a young soldier in Russia's Chechen wars. It takes the raw and mundane reality of days amid guns and grenades and twists it into compelling, chilling - and eerily elegant - prose. With unblinking honesty, Babchenko traces his journey from innocence to experience, beginning with his teenage arrival in the transit camp just north of Chechnya and harsh treatment by his seniors as a naive and scared new recruit, through to his period of active duty at the front, by which time he has become a brutalized and hardened soldier.

This is an outstanding dispatch from the frontline of war - unsparing, unsentimental, blackly comic and brutally beautiful - from an ordinary soldier who tells it like it is. This title will especially appeal to readers of contemporary reportage and war writing - from Michael Herr and Kapuscinski to Anthony Swofford's Jarhead and Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down; as well as lovers of Tolstoy, Chekhov and Babel, and anyone with an interest in modern Russia.

About the author

Image of Arkady Babchenko

Arkady Babchenko was born in 1977. He fought as an 18-year-old conscript in the first Chechen War in 1996-8 and then volunteered to return for six months in 2000 during the second Chechen War. A law graduate, he currently works in Moscow as a journalist on the oppositional newspaper Novaya Gazeta. This is his first book. More about the author


One Soldier's War in Chechnya easily bears comparison with the great literary accounts of other wars, such as Michael Herr's Dispatches or Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. This is not to say that Babchenko is a second Isaac Babel, as there can be only one Red Cavalry, but like Babel, his work possesses a breathlessly visual strength. [...] One has rarely read about a military culture, in which the line between war and peace is so blurred.’



‘A devastating testimony from an extremely talented young writer.’ Jo Glanville

‘Almost entirely autobiographical, these are extraordinary stories and make for grim, compulsive reading...Here are universal truths...the sense of confusion and arbitrariness, the pointlessness of it all, the longing for home - and yet the more pointless lives led by those who know nothing of war....This is an exceptional book, and an important one. Babchenko has transcended reportage, and succeeded in turning his terrible war experiences into art. That may be no great compensation to the Russian amputees, ex-soldiers frequently seen begging or busking in the big cities, but it may help to ensure they will not be forgotten.’ Virginia Rounding

‘An alarming and deeply affecting book. For its author, Arkady Babchenko, who will relive these stories for the rest of his days, this is a considerable literary and psychological feat.’ Timothy Phillips

‘I devoured Arkady Babchenko's quite extraordinary memoir. Drafted as an 18-year-old conscript, Babchenko turns from naive recruit to brutalised soldier in the space of months, and his book is truly shocking - Catch-22 in slo-mo, as vivid as modern unedited TV news footage.’ Dylan Jones

‘Illuminating and darkly humorous ... he is also capable of arresting lyricism.’ Sebastian Smith

‘In One Soldier's War in Chechnya, Arkady Babchenko, a former Russian army conscript who now works as a journalist in Moscow, has provided a graphic and chilling account of what it was like to serve as a front-line Russian soldier during the first Chechen war... As in Anthony Swofford's Jarhead, Babchenko does not seek to wallow in his brutalisation but rather sees it as an inevitable rite of passage towards becoming a proper soldier.’ Con Coughlin

‘It's a fine book.... Arkady Babchenko's prose is raw and uncut and his subject matter is one of the most terrible wars in the world - without a doubt the most under-reported... Babchenko's book is an account from an ordinary Russian grunt, and its fundamental honesty makes unbearable reading.’ John Sweeney

‘Like Tolstoy, Babchenko was a Russian soldier in the Caucasus before he was a writer, and his remarkable stories, cast a frequently shocking light on the barbaric conduct of the occupying forces. ... A principled and unflinching expose of Russia's conduct in the war.... In the tradition of Joseph Heller's Catch 22 or Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms... News journalists talk about their 'stories' without implying that what they write is untrue, but One Soldier's War is a more artfully contrived narrative deploying fictional techniques as well as autobiography. "I did not mean to write a book," Babchenko admits in a preface. "I did not even think about what I was writing - stories, memoirs or just some kind of text".’ Hugh Barnes

‘Remarkable - my book of the year.’ Matthew Sweet

‘The most unsparing memoir I've seen - of any war.’ John Lloyd

‘Until I read Arkady Babchenko's graphic first-person account in One Solider's War in Chechnya, I had not realised the depths to which the Russian Army had sunk. At times the stupidity, neglect and the scale of the suffering made this modern conflict in the Caucasus sound like an account from the trenches of the First World War.’ Richard Beeston

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