Thursday, October 8, 2015

Free Fall

A few weeks back I was very excited to find another firsthand from the Chechen Wars. Memoirs from actual fighters are my favorite types of books to read these days (I've read many Eastern Front WWII memoirs and some from a few other wars). So far for the Chechen Wars I have only turned up three including this one. I don't know of any others written in or translated into English. Some Amazon reviewers were skeptical of the veracity of this latest find, but I took a chance on it anyway.

The book I just read is titled Free Fall: A Sniper's Story by Nicolai Lilin (it is also titled Free Fall: A Sniper's Story from Chechnya and that's how I found it). Nicolai Lilin was born in Moldova (now Transnistria) in 1980 and was drafted into the Russian armed services around the time of Second Chechen War. He served with their special forces, the saboteurs, as a sniper. His book briefly describes his training, but primarily concerns the brutal missions he and his small group participated in. The missions are richly described with an almost cinematic flair. In the introduction Nicolai states that in order to protect the privacy of his fellow soldiers he purposely changed names and omitted references to dates and places. I found this last part particularly annoying. At this point I considered myself well versed in the Chechen Wars so I didn't have trouble following along, but I definitely wish I knew these facts rather than just guessed them. The book was originally written in Italian (at some point Nicolai moved to Italy after his service, he now has a rather large Italian media presence) and then translated into English. Perhaps some of the possible inaccuracies stem from that translation; I'm not sure (there's several mentions of American equipment being supplied to Chechen fighters; the numbers of Chechen fighters mentioned in fights seems extremely large). The war is described in a very Russian fashion, the rebel fighters are composed of many Arabs and paid foreign snipers, for example (Chechen accounts downplay the first and deny the latter). Despite my complaints the book is definitely a quick, thrilling read. I'm super jazzed to paint up a squad of Russian special forces now. What's better than a book getting me excited to paint more and my painting inspiring my reading!?

Update: I continued to search for information about the book and came up with this article from the Independent. Seems the book is almost entirely made up and has since been re-titled Sniper: A Novel ... oh well. I guess there remains just two true soldier memoirs out there.

Nicolai Lilin

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