Six novels that come to the truth of the First World War


From 1914 to 1918, Europe sacrificed a generation of men and called for overseas domains and colonies to send their young to feed the Minotaur. Tens of millions of people – civilians and soldiers – were killed or wounded during the First World War. Even the United States, which did not enter the war until April 6, 1917, sent more than 116,000 men to death.

For four years a large part of Europe has marked the centenary of several battles, and this year will observe the anniversary of the end of the Great War – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the 39; the eleventh month – with memory rituals that recognize all that has been lost. (In the United States, November 11 is celebrated as Veterans Day. As the date of this year falls on a Sunday, the national holiday will be observed on Monday.)

Although few Americans made literature the First World War, European writers – serving men, waiting women and people who opposed the war – produced novels, memoirs and poems that are still almost unbearable to read for their painful evocation of the battlefield and the emotional costs of the war.

American readers may be familiar with "All Quiet on the Western Front", by the German veteran Erich Maria Remarque and with "A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway, two novels of the First World War published at the end of the years ". . They may also have read the relatively recent novel by Sebastian Faulks "Birdsong" (1993), which tells of the traumatic experiences of a veteran of the First World War, and of "Regeneration Trilogy" by Pat Barker (1991, 1993 and 1995), which are been applauded for their exploration of the shell shock. For those looking to learn more about the devastation of war, a good starting point could be with these six books:

(NYRB Classics)

"The Burning of the World" by Béla Zombory-Moldován (NYRB Classics)

Béla Zombory-Moldován was 29 years old when he was called to serve in the Austro-Hungarian army after the war was declared. His memorial of the eight months he served – until a serious accident sent him home – offers an account of the ancient war on the eastern front, where Russians, Cossacks, Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Czechs, Romanians, Poles , Hungarians, Austrians and Germans fought in horrendous conditions. His grisly tale of being bombed provides information on why so many survivors have returned home with what we now call PTSD.

"No Man & # 39; s Land" by Simon Tolkien (Anchor Books)

Tolkien's grandfather, famous writer and scholar J.R.R. Tolkien, served in France for several months in 1916 up to the contraction of trench fever. In this novel of 2016, Simon Tolkien addresses class issues and rigid social structures as well as war. Adam Raine, the son of a worker who was greeted by a rich man, sets aside his studies at Oxford to serve in the army. But on the front, he finds out that people are lied about the war and how their children are dying.

"Schlump" by Hans Herbert Grimm (NYRB Classics)

Grimm published this novel in 1928 anonymously, concerned that his absurd approach to war would have offended other Germans. He did so, and when the Nazis came to power, "Schlump" was burned and banned. In this black comedy, the seventeen year old Schlump leaves for the war in the hope of "meeting girls". His initial task is quiet and the source of many slapstick moments, but his experiences at the front, where men are sacrificed in response to senseless orders, are transmitted with dark humor that masks anger and despair.

"The Absolutist" by John Boyne (Other Press)

This sad novel about war-time friendship was published in 2011. British teenagers Tristan and Will meet during basic training sessions and are lined up along with the western front. The intensity of their friendship leads to moments of character definition. In harrowing scenes and tender moments, Boyne explores the ways in which friends protect each other on the battlefield and how the stress and brutality of war can produce acts of bravery and betrayal.

"The Winter Soldier" by Daniel Mason (Little, Brown)

In the Mason novel of 2018, Lucius is a medical student in Vienna when the war begins. He volunteered to serve in the Austro-Hungarian army and was sent to the Carpathians, where he is the only field hospital doctor and the soldiers he treats are suffering horrible injuries. A nurse with secrets, Sister Margarete, adds mystery to the plot and complicates life at the hospital.

"Fear" by Gabriel Chevallier (NYRB Classics)

The terrible 1930 novel by Chevallier on the period of the young Jean Dartemont in the French army is a powerful mix of horrible battle scenes and poetic language. In one chapter, the rescue troops discover that the soldiers who were sent to help are all dead, and on one page after another, the details create the feeling of being inside a painting by Hieronymus Bosch of the damned. While on vacation, Dartemont discovers that French civilians are anxious to continue a war they believe is covering the army in glory and condemning him for his doubts. Dartemont tells his priest: "The God of infinite mercy can not be the God of the plains of Artois". And he concludes: "This war also killed God".

Lorraine Berryhe wrote books for the Guardian and Salon, among other stores.


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