REVIEW: Stalingrad: Letters from the Volga (2019)

A book by Antonio Gil and Daniel Ortega

Not to long ago, I read a new book by Spanish author and illustrator, Antonio Gil, called The Flutist of Arnhem: A Story of Operation Market Garden. I’ve been on a history kick as of late, as one can tell from these past few posts that I’ve been doing, and have especially fallen in love with comic genres I never used to read as a kid in the past. So far, military comics have been something I have quite enjoyed as they are both quite mature and educational at the same time. I was poking around on Amazon, and found out that Gil had at least one other English language work under his belt, Stalingrad: Letters from the Volga, so I immediately snapped it up. This volume was presumably translated from Spanish to English by Jeff Whitman as he is credited on the cover.

Stalingrad. From August 1942 to February 1943 this model industrial city, bathed by the waters of the Volga, was home to the bloodiest battle of World War II. Stalingrad: Letters from the Volga offers a fast-paced depiction of this titanic struggle: explicit, crude, and without concessions—just as the war and the memory of all those involved demands. The battle rendered devastating results. Almost two million human beings were marked forever in its crosshairs, a frightening figure comprised of the dead, injured, sick, captured, and missing. Military and civilians alike paid with their lives for the personal fight between Stalin and Hitler, which materialized in long months of primitive conflict among the smoking ruins of Stalingrad and its surroundings.

Book Description

This graphic novel chronicles one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the entirety of World War II in graphic detail. The principal characters in Stalingrad is a worn down squad of German soldiers through various phases of the nearly seven month long battle. One soldier, in particular, spends his downtime writing letters to his family back home, giving updates on his health and safety. We see the veterans of the squad grow harder and more pessimistic as the war drags on, as new recruits come in to refill their ranks unprepared for what is happening. The most morbid episode of this being a new commanding officer being brought in to simply die a few days into his tenure because he was unaware of the dire situation the soldiers were truly in. We see the horrors of war truly rear their ugly heads, death, disease, starvation – its all there. Having the war told through the eyes of German soldiers is a unique point of view we don’t usually get in American-made history publications for obvious propaganda reasons, so I was interested to see where that would lead.

Since the narrative jumps around, we aren’t really seeing the story unfold as a documentation of this squad itself, but we are looking at the war and using them as the grounding for the bigger picture. Each chapter starts with a general overview of what is happening at the time, a device Gil also used in The Flutist of Arnhem, as well as letters written from soldiers to their family. It’s an interesting way to tell the story, and helps with showing the overall scope of the battle. Soldiers start to talk about how “No one hopes to leave here alive” and draw comparisons to Dante’s Inferno as the battle churns and churns, we see them all lose track of any sort of self-preservation, as I’m sure many would welcome death at the end of the prolonged siege.

My only issues with this book are conditional, but kind of bad. I absolutely WOULD NOT buy it on Kindle – buy the print version. The Kindle version has formatting issues that render some of the letters on pages unreadable. I had to return my digital copy and purchase a replacement in print form Amazon for this review. Perhaps this will be something that Dead Reckoning can look into, as not having that available in a decent way is a missed opportunity. The English translation is also a bit rough, but its not a deal breaker, it could have just used a bit more polishing.

I enjoyed this book a lot, despite my issues with buying it initially. It’s not as good as The Flutist of Arnhem, but that can be expected considering it’s older. Hopefully, we will continue to see Gil release his works in English as they always take interesting paths story-wise and offer up fresh viewpoints. For a battle, like Stalingrad that has written about more than the actual battle itself lasted, to get a fresh perspective made me satisfied. The storyline is bleak and almost written like a horror tale at times, but it does a great job showing that war isn’t always the hoo-rah patriotic nonsense we mostly see in The West. Keep up the Good Work Dead Reckoning and Antonio Gil, hope to see more in the future!

If you would like your own copy of this book, please check out the book’s publisher Dead Reckoning or Amazon for a copy.

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