The combination of traditional Tolstoyan verbiage with the time-worn universal theme of war has not prevented this Russian author (Days and Nights) and journalist from creating an intense and absorbing World War II documentary of the first months at Russia's Western Front, as the Germans advance unrelentlessly toward Moscow. More than an accurate, exciting record of the actual battles, retreats, and encirclements, the novel is meaningfully overcast with an aura of war--any war of any nation--not only its horrors, but its rewards, its spirit, and above all, its blind disregard for any ""disparity between the living and the dead"". In microcosm, the hero of the book is Vanya Sintsov, a young military journalist who joins the front ranks to fight, is wounded and captured, and escapes, but without his survival guarantee--the Party Card and Identity Papers. The struggle to redeem his official status as a soldier through his own actions takes him from unit to unit, from comrade to comrade, never doubting his country's victory, but often despairing at human nature. Sinstov, with all his faith and failings, is still only an opitome; it is the Russian Army and all its emergency supporters that is the true epic hero. Aided by Ainsztein's fine translation, Simonov has managed, in a gargantuan complex of characters and events, to capture that elusive dust that inexorably settles on a people at war. Long but rewarding--both for historical accuracy and artful fiction.