The Night Witches by Garth Ennis: Book Review

The Night Witches by Garth Ennis Book Cover

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5 Stars

Title: The Night Witches
Author: Garth Ennis
Illustrator: Russ Braun
Genre: Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, World War
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback

My Synopsis:

Depicting the story of a fictional female Soviet fighter pilot in WWII, The Night Witches is horrifying but important. The Soviet Union had a group of female bombing crews who only flew at night. They flew noisy little planes that were easy for the Germans to prepare for because they could be heard from a great distance. The Soviet pilots quickly learned to cut their engines at an appropriate distance so they could glide over their targets in silence and drop their bombs on the unwitting Germans. The Germans called them The Night Witches.

After bravely serving their country in almost every military capacity, the Soviet women were told at the end of the war, “Do not talk about the services you rendered, let others do it for you. That will be better.” And their service was almost forgotten. Books like this help us honor and remember the brave women who helped save their country and who paved the way for greater freedoms for the generations of women following them.

My Review:

I literally just finished this graphic novel and I’m about to flip back to page one and read it again. That isn’t to say it was perfect–it wasn’t–but I know that in my hurry to read it, I missed a lot of important details. Now that I know Anna Kharkova’s story, I can take my time and chew it over.

I’m struggling with where to start my review because there’s so much I want to say and most of it is more suited to a discussion than a review.

I’ll avoid spoilers and only say that the timeline of the book covers the war and decades of life in the Soviet Union afterward. Anna’s life isn’t easy and the book itself could be a trigger for some, with very graphic depictions of war violence, war wounds, and almost unspeakable war crimes.

As I mentioned before, the book does have some problems. I lost track of the number of men who almost immediately fell in love with Anna. The first third of the book, the section that’s also entitled “The Night Witches,” alternates Anna’s story with the story of a German soldier, Kurt Graf. I found Kurt’s story particularly confusing. I couldn’t understand which soldiers were fighting for which country and what the heck was going on. That’s probably my fault for not paying more attention to uniforms or something, but I was pretty lost.

I felt that the relationships between Anna and the other women around her were pretty spot-on. They were very loyal to their friends, harsh to those they didn’t like, and pretty blunt when checking out some of the men around them. There are no idealized “proper ladies” to be found here.

I particularly enjoyed the historical notes Ennis wrote at the end. I read a lot of WWII fiction, but I tend to read books set on the Western front that focus on civilians or concentration camp prisoners. I honestly had no idea that 27 million–you read that right, 27 million–Soviets died in the war. There are a lot more facts and figures that I didn’t know, but they might get spoiler-y, so I’ll stop there.

The group of women known as the Night Witches deserve to be honored and remembered, so, despite some flaws, I highly recommend this graphic novel for those who don’t mind the raw violence it contains.

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    1. Just be aware that it’s very violent but I found it fascinating! I would never be brave enough to be a “Night Witch.”

  1. I hadn’t heard of the Night Witches before (either the book or the people who inspired it) so thank you for bringing it to my attention! I’ve read and enjoyed Maus I, and have Maus II on my TBR, so maybe when I’m done with that one I’ll take a look for this one.

    1. I had heard of the Night Witches before I read this but I didn’t even know which country they fought for. I definitely didn’t know that their service was just basically hidden under a rug when the war was over. What a shame. I can’t imagine doing what they did.

    1. It’s almost impossible to wrap my mind around that number. This was very violent but I’m so glad I learned more about these “Night Witches” who sacrificed so much for their country.

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