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The Living Unknown Soldier: A Story of Grief and the Great War Paperback – August 11, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (August 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805079378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805079371
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,797,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This incisive historical study probes the vexed issues of war and remembrance through the tragic story of Anthelme Mangin, an unidentified amnesiac World War I veteran who washed up in a French mental hospital in 1918. The Mangin case became a cause célèbre after a war in which hundreds of thousands of French soldiers had gone missing in action, buried or obliterated by artillery fire, or hastily interred in anonymous graves. Many families claimed him as their own long-lost relative, usually in spite of conclusive proof to the contrary; literary renderings styled him a reborn innocent, uniquely free from the memory, and therefore free from the trauma and hatreds of the war; he became a symbol of the mixed feelings of grief and guilt that France felt towards the soldiers whose lives were shattered in the conflict. Historian and political scientist Le Naour (A History of Sexual Behavior During World War I) draws on legal and medical files from the case, press accounts, personal letters, poems, novels and plays to illuminate French attitudes towards World War I vets; he explores the anguish and pathos of the families of the missing, psychiatric attitudes towards shell-shocked soldiers, methods for establishing identity, and the conflicting political significance assigned to the dead and missing by the left and the right. His treatment is limited mainly to the French context, but readers interested not just in World War I but in America’s own cults of the Vietnam MIAs and the missing from Ground Zero will find much food for thought in this acute, well-researched and moving study. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

On February 1, 1918, a French soldier was found wandering the platforms of a railroad station. In dirty, threadbare coat and staring blankly, he didn't know his name. In fact, he had virtually no memory. Newspapers dubbed him Anthelme Mangin, the "living unknown soldier." For 16 years he resided in various insane asylums, becoming a poignant figure for the families of the missing and a focus for a nation's grief. The media attention he received incited nearly 300 people to clamor for more information in hopes that he would turn out to be the son, husband, or brother considered missing in action; 20 families would go to court for him, but to no avail. He died on September 10, 1942, never having recovered his memory. To some, he had lived most of his adult life as the ultimate free man. But his freedom, if that's what it was, was purchased at an exceedingly high price. Through him, La Naour's absorbing book addresses the uncomfortable but seemingly ever timely subject of the missing in action. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mike Cunha VINE VOICE on May 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Jean-Yves Le Naour has magnificently written an unsettling tale of the Living Unknown Soldier of post-WWI France, Anthelme Mangin. Penny Allen has masterfully translated the story.

Le Naour brings to life the past of Anthelme Mangin, an amnesiac veteran of WW One who returned to France in a state of complete dementia. Mangin had been a prisoner in Germany who was repratriated with other invalids in early 1918.

A great sadness permeates the book. Mangin's poor soul never recovered its memory, although he was definitively identified as a soldier who had been taken prisoner in 1914 many, many years later. But his and other amnesiac veterans' return brought an unrelenting torment to the families of more than 300,000 missing Frenchmen. Le Naour in his narrative veers off briefly but fully brings to the pages a sense of the France's state after the war: the guilt of the survivors, the never-ending hope that the disappeared would someday return to their families, the despair that drove some survivors to madness as they waited the rest of their lives for a son, a brother, a husband to come home. Mangin, in his wretched state, symbolized for the French the enduring symbol of grief for a nation drained of much of its young manhood in the war. With no body to bury, families of the missing were torn over clinging on to hope or whether to let go and begin grieving.

The book was excellent. As I write this and think of the story I'm left saddened at how Mangin passed away without ever recovering his memory.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on January 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Anthelme mangin wasn't even his real name, but the doctors had to call him something in order to fit him into their bureaucracy. In Jean-Yves Le Naour's research he found that many of the Army records he needed to lay his hands on have mysteriously been "disappeared," but from press accounts and asylum he was able to piece together most of the story, though some details remain alarmingly vague. It didn't help him that the journalist who did the most to publicize M. Mangin's plight was himself a fabulist and made up picturesque details out of whole cloth if they helped him sell newspapers. (So there's a funny passage in Le Naour's book in which he enumerates how many fictions the journalist used in one piece, claiming that in the entire news release there was only one verifiable fact.)

I got puzzled too, because lost in the mist of history is the origin on Mangin's madness. Amnesia is now more properly understood as a secondary system of something else, and trauma studies have shown that war alone is able to induce amnesia (rather than postulating that the amnesiac is a "weak" person to begin with, or even more xenophobically, a foreigner). But so is the asylum and so is prison, so that Mangin's indisputably "nutty" symptoms might have cropped up later on in life when he began receiving wholescale public attention. (Jean Anouilh wrote a play about him, TRAVELER WITHOUT LUGGAGE, which premiered in 1937. Of copurse Le Nauor was too "insane" to attend.)

Did you know that approximately 250,000 Frenchmen just disappeared during the First World War? Presumably most of them were killed in battle, buried in mass graves, but at least a dozen wound up with amnesia and remained unclaimed by their families.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Danny Cook on November 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In "The Living Unknown Soldier," Anthelme is a an unidentified French Soldier in post WWI Europe. He is suffering from Amnesia and doesnt remember who is family is or where he is to call home. He searches countless times all over Europe. People who cannot find realitives of their own take him in, thinking if he can't remember who he is maybe he is our lost relitive. Distant family memebers desperately hold on to the shroud of hope that he maybe their family member. In this book Anthelme represents the young generation of France. The childish belief that once something is over it is forgotten. It is trying to show how France wants its people to forget the horrible losses of the war and move on into the next stage of civilization. France felt guilty for the way the family's suffered, for the lost, the innnocent, and the missing. This book represents the way the whole country of France felt, Lost and Disillusioned.
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