Home > Uncategorized > Konstantin Fedin: Is there anyone who doesn’t want this war to be the last one on earth?

Konstantin Fedin: Is there anyone who doesn’t want this war to be the last one on earth?

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

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Konstantin Fedin
From The Conflagration (1961-1965)
Translated by Olda Shartse

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“…People who prepare war surrender themselves to circumstances at some given moment, and they don’t know where these circumstances might lead them…Wars never begin on dates set in advance.”

***

“So many wars were fought in my lifetime! I was in the last three. With a scalpel and saw for weapons, it is true. Is there anyone who doesn’t want this war to be the last one on earth? Only we can achieve this, I suppose…”

***

They had only gone a little way when they noticed a commotion ahead and suddenly, without a sound, the long line of people moving along the pavement began to scatter. No sooner did they notice this than they heard the fast-approaching and already familiar whine of planes. The street was deserted almost instantly. People sought cover in the yards and the houses whose doors had been left open.

Anna and Tsvetukhin ran, keeping close together and getting in each other’s way.

They were running past a long fence that offered no protection, but ahead of them they saw the ruins of a brick house where people were taking cover and their one hope was to reach it before the bombs fell. They were almost there when Tsvetukhin discerned a dry, crackling sound in the roar of the plane and realized that the Germans were strafing the road…

In Tsvetukhin’s quavering, gasping sigh her ear divined rather than heard the words: “My God! What a nightmare!” And she also muttered: “God! God! God!”

The roar of the engine and the stutter of the machine-gun fire were so low overhead that the plane seemed to drag the air after it. The ponderous whine of a second plane, following immediately after, absorbed all the other sounds and resolved in a thunderous explosion. The blast picked up the dust and rubble from the pavement and hurled it into the hole where they were hiding. Above them, in the ruins of the house, they heard the hollow rumble of sliding bricks, and felt a shower of plaster and dust coming through the porch floor.

***

Sasha was on all fours, attempting to get up and collapsing again. Her head hung forward and swayed feebly. Blood trickled from her face to the ground in a thick thread. Her dress and her arms were covered with blood. She raised her head a little and Anna, who was bending over her, saw her mangled mouth with no lower lip or chin…

There was a low, squat house across the street with a neat row of feeble saplings in front of it. In the midst of them towered an old chestnut tree. At its foot lay the baby. He lay, as all sleeping babies do, on his back, his head resting on the curb as on a pillow, his arms crossed on his chest, and his legs sprawled out on the cobblestones. The dust had settled over him in a smooth film, and it was as white as the baby’s face.

This was the baby brother Sasha had been carrying. There was a tiny black hole in his forehead, just above a half-open, lifeless eye, from which a dark line of coagulated blood ran down into his golden hair. His head must have been pressed close to his sister’s cheek when she was wounded and he was killed.

***

Another flight of planes passed the town in the distance, in a wide arc. In the lull that followed people reappeared in the street, hopefully moving on again to wherever they thought safety might be awaiting them.

Tsvetukhin, also invigorated with hope, stopped tugging Anna by the hand and walked in step with her. His excitement subsided a little, and he sobered up, as it were. He took her arm and for the first time looked intently into her face. She was staring stonily in front of her from under knitted brows. He wanted to ask her if she was feeling all right, but deciding that it was a foolish thing to ask, merely pressed her arm more gently to his side. “How can anyone feel all right when everything has become chaos and horror?” he was thinking. “One can only lose one’s mind. Have I? Has Anna?”

***

The unrelieved roar with which the ground under their feet reverberated sounded louder. It seemed to come from the right. The sky was obscured by a thick curtain of smoke and clouds. When solitary planes or groups of planes suddenly broke that curtain, everyone looked skyward to see which way they were going. Each was sure they were flying at him, straight for him. People huddled together under the old, shady trees, and threw themselves to the ground, hugging it close. The shade was to protect them them, and if it did – after all, if luck could keep one safe why shouldn’t the shade of a tree? – they rose and moved on again.

The long slope to the Kobrinsky Bridge was thronged with refugees. It was a narrow embankment, and the place was so completely exposed from all sides that few ventured going straight up the bridge. German attack bombers has already been there. There were wounded men, women and children lying on the ground beside the blank wall of a warehouse or some such building. Smoke rose from an overturned truck. The roots of a lime tree hung over the rim of a shell-hole. And sitting in the shade of the crown, which now lay on the ground, a woman was nursing her baby.

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