This was a great book. I have read many, to try to understand and remember what my recent ancestors endured. This is one of the four definitive memoirs or autobiographical novels I have read on the subject. The others are All quiet, Storm of Steel and Her Privates We.
Storm of Steel, whilst having a certain melancholy, could not be described as anti-war! Her Privates We takles the position that warfare is sometimes necessary. All Quiet is famously anti-war. Under Fire is anti war, anti capitalist, anti class system, in some ways anarchic.
Barbusse was already a recognised author when he started this novel, and he wrote much of it whilst still in the Trenches. In my opinion, the characteristic trait of this novel are the lucid, visual descriptions of the battles and the field in which they occurred as a barren, consuming hell of mud, fire and death, and the men as having been reduced to barbarous troglodytes by the unending and pitiless misery of their existence.
Perhaps only a mind in which the scars of such an experience were still fresh could have penned such descriptive prose. The opening passage, in which men descend inexorably upon France from all over Europe to fight each other is shocking and moving.
The final chapters, in which the ordinary poilus find themselves philosophising (believably)over war, then mass hallucinate as an army of warmongers materialises from all corners of the horizon and pushes back the sky even more so. A stunning vision, which brought a lump to my throat.
Thyis book was out of print for years, and who's to say it will remain in print. Robin Buss's tranlation does the book great justice, so buy it whilst you can.