Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya –

Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya
By Nicolai Lilin (Canongate)
£ 12.99 ****

by Claire Allfree

According to Nicolai Lilin’s superior in the Russian army, the first Chechen War was ‘just a cover for the trafficking run by the corrupt people in the government’. This is one of the few slivers of opinion, political or otherwise, framing this pitiless account of the second conflict by Lilin, an elite sniper who admits it was essential he remained scared to retain his sanity. There’s certainly enough to threaten it: amid the relentless explosions of brain, bone and blood, both sides liked leaving ‘monuments’ (enemies skinned alive) for each other; while, in one of the few encounters with civilians, a Chechen woman is so traumatized by the bloodshed she unable to tell that her baby is dead. Lilin’s descriptions are full of distancing techniques (the enemy is always called ‘Arab’; the account is thin on geographical details). Yet it’s pierced with firm feeling for his ‘family’ of fellow saboteurs – as well as an existential sorrow over a war that made so little sense that peace, when finally came, felt incomprehensible.

This article was originally published in Metro on August 10 2011.
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