This Week’s Book Review – Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Lady Death’ the story of a successful sniper

By MARK LARDAS

Feb 12, 2019

“Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper,” by Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Greenhill Books, 2018, 272 pages, $32.95

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the Soviet Army’s most successful female sniper during World War II. A fourth-year history student when Hitler invaded Russia, she quit school to enlist as a sniper. In 1941 and 1942 she racked up 309 kills.

“Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper,” by Lyudmila Pavlichenko, is an English translation of her memoirs. She died in 1974, leaving a manuscript copy of her memoirs, which remained unpublished until this century.

In it she recounts her life, with a primary emphasis on her wartime experiences. She shows how she became an expert marksman before the war, joining shooting teams at work and in school, becoming fascinated with both the machinery of the rifle and the art of shooting.

She put those skills to good use when Russia was invaded. Enlisting as a private, she served as a sniper in the 25th Rifle Division. She recounts her experiences during the summer of 1941 through the spring of 1942. She fought at the sieges of Odessa and Sevastopol, was wounded several times, promoted to lieutenant (and command of a sniper platoon), married a husband and saw him die in combat. These experiences are described in the chapters covering her combat career.

Wounded near the end of the latter siege, she was evacuated before Sevastopol fell. She had become famous, the subject of several published Soviet “histories” she states invented exploits for dramatic purposes.

Against her objections (she had a husband to avenge) she was sent to the United States on Stalin’s orders as a Soviet student representative to an international youth conference. There she met and was befriended by Eleanor Roosevelt. This is as fascinating an account as her combat recollections. The United States, Canada, and Britain were environments to which she had never been exposed.

Pavlichenko was an unapologetic communist, who grew up a privileged member of the nomenclature, the Soviet elite. This colors her history of events. She mentions Hitler invading Poland, but fails to mention the Soviets aided Hitler.

Regardless, “Lady Death,” is fascinating, and Pavlichenko’s beliefs don’t change her real accomplishments. This is a book worth reading.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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3 thoughts on “This Week’s Book Review – Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper”

  1. Being a sniper seems to me a huge moral burden to bare. Even though the target has no idea, the shooter most likely holds the memory of every target. Sniping  by design is an unfair advantage.

    Drawing no moral conclusions, just observation.

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  2. Kevin Schulte:
    Being a sniper seems to me a huge moral burden to bare. Even though the target has no idea, the shooter most likely holds the memory of every target. Sniping  by design is an unfair advantage.

    Drawing no moral conclusions, just observation.

    Go find Clint Eastwood’s most excellent movie American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper as American SEAL Chris Kyle. Those guys are too smart and well-trained for words and his death still affects me for selfish reasons. What a huge loss for our country.

    In the movie you see him in Iraq three seconds away from killing a 7-8 year boy who was “carrying” and headed right towards a small platoon of Marines. Kyle positioned one of his various weapons:

    but was relieved to disengage as the boy became frightened and dropped his bomb before setting it off.

    He didn’t have a moral issue with killing a child if it meant saving the lives of 50 Marines.

    Booyah.

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