Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Four Steps to Death

Four Steps to Death

John Wilson
Historical Fiction
For ages 14 and up
Kids Can Press, 2005   ISBN: 978-1553377047

Vasily is a Russian soldier who is determined to bring honor to his family name, and to serve his country and Comrade Stalin. There is a Nazi army approaching the city of Stalingrad and Vasily is one of the Russian soldiers who has to fight against this enemy. He is sure that just like Napoleon, the Germans will lose the upcoming battle and retreat in defeat.

Conrad is a German soldier who believes what he has been told by his government and his superiors - Germany is superior and will defeat all her enemies. Hitler wants the Russian city of Stalingrad and Conrad is sure that he and his friends and comrades in arms will be able to give their leader the victory he wants. After all this is a "crusade against the barbarians" and surely the great German army will prevail.

Sergei is a seven-year-old boy who lives in Stalingrad and whose life gets caught up in the battle for his city. All he wants to do is to survive, and come out of this terrible situation in one piece.

As these three characters converge on one another in the ruins of the great city, each learns that nothing is what it seems and that life is infinitely more complicated than politicians and generals want them to believe. The enemy is not just a faceless soldier hiding behind a wall; he may be someone’s brother, or someone’s friend. He may not be a he at all but a she.

Often raw and disturbing, this is a book which sweeps away any illusions one might have about the "glory" or "honor" of war. War is shown to be brutal, confusing, terrifying, and costly. Two young men and a boy discover a great deal about themselves and life in a horribly short period of time as war does her best to destroy them and everything and everyone around them. This book serves as a moving tribute to the courage and determination of the Russian people who fought so hard for their country and whose sacrifices made is possible for the allies to finally defeat Hitler's armies two years after the Stalingrad battle took place.