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Under Fire Paperback – October 25, 2013
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About the Author
Henri Barbusse was born in 1873 and the novel UNDER FIRE is one of the most famous works of French literature of the 20th century. It expresses the disillusionment with war that led him to pacifism and then communism. His socialist novel CLARTE lentits name to a short-lived internationalist movement. He died in the Soviet Union in 1935.
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Top customer reviews
Literally, nothing much happens in this book until it is three quarters done. Barbusse, I was aware, is noted for his graphic depiction of the horrors of World War 1. When he does get to describing a battle and its consequences he lives up to this reputation in spades. In fact hid descriptions are so graphic as to be almost obscene. A different reader may believe this to be a good thing - factually describing war in all its misery and horror. But there comes a point where it can become violent and graphic for its own sake alone.
No pun intended the best part of the book was the end. After enduring horrible shelling and the results of torrential rain
Changing the battlefield I nto a quagmire, the soldiers (in terrible condition - graphically described ) settle down to converse. The dialogue is depressing, sad and hopeless. Just as Ww1 was.
Needless to say, I don't recommend the book. Much the pity, because the author is talented and did serve in the war.
The unidentified narrator of the story begins the story in the sanatorium “The Dent du Midi, the Aiguille Verte and Mont Blanc stare down at the bloodless faces emerging from under the blankets lined up along the gallery of the sanatorium” . This sets the precedent for the entire novel. Another telling quote from the same chapter “'Austria is committing a crime,' the Austrian says, 'France must win,' says the Englishman, 'I hope that Germany will be defeated,' says the German” . The very telling quotes coming from a sanatorium, give credence to Barbusse’s feeling of the lunacy of an awful war; a war that he experienced firsthand.
His first-hand experience came from his time with 231 infantry Regiment, as is described in the introduction of his book “he joined the two3first Infantry Regiment, at the age of forty-one” . His time in the “Great War” was far from great. The book depicts a hellish nightmare that Barbusse had to deal with, “Their heads and arms are underwater, but you can see their backs with the leather of their equipment emerging on the surface of the pasty liquid… Here there is a face almost emerging, its head stranded on the edge while the body vanishes into the murky depths. It is looking upwards, its eyes two white holes, its mouth one black one” . Nearly the entire book is riddled with descriptions of a similar vein. The unidentified narrator is almost telling his story as if he is teetering on the ads of insanity.
Simple things that the average person may take for granted like the description of a soldier maintaining his cleanly habits in the midst of this insane war “streaming with rain, stood the object of their curiosity: FouiHade, naked from the waist up, washing himself” . He contrasts the soldier and his normal hygiene habits with “Labri, a sort of mongrel sheepdog with a clipped tail, is lying curled up on a tiny patch of straw dust. Fouillade looks at Labri and Labri looks at him”. He later continues his description of the dog with “. He describes the dog as not eating and that quote “life is a burden to him. He is in as much danger as we are from bullets and shrapnel, but even if he escapes those, he will eventually die here”. He continues describing the dog with “Fouillade pats the dog's head with his thin hand, and the dog stares back at him. They have the same look on their faces, with the only difference that one is looking up, the other down” . If the dog is taken to represent the soldier in an Army, Barbusse’s idea of the war and the Army as being degrading and destroying of a man’s honor can clearly be seen in the little description of the dog.
Barbusse had a very fatalistic and nihilistic view of the war. He pointed out quite bluntly that there was no more honor in war with some of his descriptions. A German author Ernst Junger, had a completely opposite view of the war.