Somewhere in the far recesses of my mind I knew there was a battle between the Russians and the Germans, after Stalingrad, and that it was a battle of tanks. Now I know a lot more. The battle took place in Kursk, a city in southwestern Russia, and it pitted the Russian T-34s against the gargantuan German Mark VI Tigers. Inside those little T-34s were the ever-enduring Cossacks.
Thank you, Betty Blackburn, for recommending this book. Who would believe a novel about an obscure battle in WW II could be this wonderful, this full of wisdom, this captivating. I’ve taken a long time to read it, and now that I’m nearly finished, I want to slow down even more, savor it to make it last. Then I’d like to take a day to read it again from cover to cover.
Luckily, there are more David L. Robbins books out there for me to read. The War of the Rats is generally thought to be Robbins’ best. The title alone intrigues me.
This battle of Kursk was the greatest tank battle in history: “two hundred tanks inside four square kilometers, it was like a saloon brawl.”
The book pits Spanish SS officer Luis deVega against Dimitri, Katya, and Valentin Berko. Dimitri is the patriarch of the family, daughter Katya a Night Witch bomber pilot, son Valentin commander of the T-34 driven by Dimitri.
The final battle takes place in a field of sunflowers. I found myself praying that Dimitri would survive. When Valentin begins to call his father “Papa,” I rejoiced.
“You’re a good woman,” Dimitri said (to a woman who’s been digging trenches to slow down the German advance). “I am,” she answered, and lingered in his arms, sea-green eyes flowing over his face. And you need to let me go.” Later, Dimitri “added her to the list of people he asked God to protect, and wondered if he wasn’t taxing God’s patience somehow, there must be a million men asking for the same right about now.”
The German spy speaking to Katya: “Conquest is merely a shorthand to greatness. It’s a sickness that every nation endures at some point when its pride has grown too fast. The urge to take overwhelms the will to create. It’s a malady of power.”
Near the end, Dimitri wonders why he’s always so angry with his son. This is Valentin’s answer: “We’ve traded places, Papa. You weren’t ready for it. That’s all.”
The German spy, again, after the battle: “The British are a cold people when angry….. Not like the Russians, so hot to spill blood. And we Germans, what are we? We are the worst. We believe war is glorious.”
Who knew that Vincent Van Gogh never sold a single painting while he was alive? Robbins knew that, and he put it in this book.
If it were possible, I’d like to convince every person in America to read this novel. I think it’s that great.
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