A brilliant, brutal, and dead-honest appreciation of the USSR experience in Afghanistan from a Russian journalist who covered the savage nine-year conflict from start to finish. In spare but telling detail, Bocharov conveys the heroism, horrors, ironies, idiocies, and costs of a war that neither the Kremlin nor its legions seem to have understood. He does so by alternating his own pointed observations with short takes illustrating the high price paid by the young recruits Moscow sent to prop up a puppet regime in a hostile land. In addition to a My Lai-like atrocity, for instance, the author includes a gruesome account of how a medical officer went quite mad the first time he came under fire from Mujahedden guerrillas--spooks to what he repeatedly refers to as the Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan. Superior firepower proved unequal to the task of quelling rebel tribesmen, Bocharov notes, in large measure be. cause Politburo members and their minions failed to grasp the realities of the primitive Muslim nation they were trying to subjugate. Among other doomed, self-defeating enterprises, he recalls that expatriate authorities established an Academy of Sciences in Kabul (where the illiteracy rate runs around 98%) and pressed for coeducation (in a society that veils its women). On the home front, reports the author (who was plagued by party-liner censors on the battlefield), the families of fallen soldiers were not allowed to cite Afghanistan on their headstones. As he makes clear, though, Mother Russia does not lack for living memorials; hosts of veterans, wounded in spirit as well as body, survive to remind fellow citizens the war has not ended. Touching without dwelling on the obvious parallels between the Soviet Union's protracted entanglement in Afghanistan and the equally tragic involvement of the US in Vietnam, Bocharov offers affecting testimony on the consequences of a quagmire.