Yashka: My Life as Peasant, Officer, and Exile

By MARIA BOTCHKAREVA, Commander of the Russian Women’s Battalion of Death. As set down by ISAAC DON LEVINE. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1919. 8vo. xii+340 pp. $2.00.
STIRRING as the revelation of a woman’s idealism and fortitude, absorbing as a recital of sheer adventure and hair’s-breadth escape, Madame Botchkareva’s book achieves its greatest importance as a document of Russia under the Provisional Government and during the first weeks of the Bolshevist régime. As the editor points out in his introduction, it contains the only extended and intimate view of the two revolutions in their effect on the masses of the Russian Army; at least, the only such view, equally authenticated, in English. We follow vividly and circumstantially, in the recital of a woman who had already been a soldier for two years, the beginnings of war-weariness among the troops, the undermining of morale, the growing tendency to inaction and fraternization with the enemy, the substitution of the soldiers’ committees for official authority and discipline, and the final break-up of the army into a prodigious mass-meeting, dedicated with a furious intensity to the business of talk, and swayed senselessly from extreme to extreme as propaganda followed propaganda, while the military front became a fiction, and those who advocated fighting the enemy were trampled to death as friends of Tsarism. It is in these chapters, and in the succeeding glimpses of the reign of ghastliness under Bolshevism, that the book becomes history.
In one sense the account is all the more valuable because the author knows little of politics. She is no Tsarist; she is certainly no Bolshevist. She is as much against the government of Kerensky as against that of Lenin, arid for the same reason: because il could not, or did not, hold the army together to prosecute the war. All her accounts of men, actions, and policies are colored, as her own actions are, by a belief, amounting almost to an idée fixe, that nothing could be done for Mother Russia, until her soil was cleared of the foreign enemy. Yashka is propaganda as propaganda should be: with the bias easy to make allowance for, all the cards are on the table. W. F.