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Under Fire (Penguin Translated Texts) [Paperback]

Henri Barbusse
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 Mar 2014 Penguin Translated Texts

A searing, unflinchingly realist novel about life at war, written during the First World War

'Men are made to be husbands, fathers - men, in short! Not animals that hunt one another down'

Under Fire follows the fortune of a French battalion during the First World War. For this group of ordinary men, thrown together from all over France and longing for home, war is simply a matter of survival, and the arrival of their rations, a glimpse of a pretty girl or a brief reprieve in hospital is all they can hope for.

Based directly on Henri Barbusse's experiences of the trenches, Under Fire is the most famous French novel of the First World War, starkly evoking the mud, stench and monotony of an eternal battlefield. It is also a powerful critique of inequality between ranks, the incomprehension of those who have not experienced battle, and of war itself.

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Under Fire (Penguin Translated Texts) + Storm of Steel (Penguin Modern Classics) + Undertones of War (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (17 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141393432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141393438
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 543,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


One of the most influential of all war novels (History Today)

About the Author

Henri Barbusses was born in 1873 in Asnières-sur-Seine, France. He fought as a volunteer in the First World War, which inspired his masterpiece Under Fire (1916). The book was criticised for its harsh naturalism and hatred for militarism, but won the Prix Goncourt. A noted pacifist and later a communist, Barbusse's socialist novel Clarté (1920) lent its name to a short-lived internationalist movement. His other works include The Knife Between the Teeth (1921) and Le Judas de Jésus (1927). Henri Barbusse died in the Soviet Union in 1935, of pneumonia. He was writing a second biography of Stalin at the time.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest - a classic. 10 May 2004
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Under Fire - published by WilderPublications 4 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Be warned of this edition of this classic book of First World War trench warfare. The translator of this edition wisely remained anonymous. The translation mangles the book. I struggled through the first four chapters, but it was just unreadable. Then a friend lent me the Penguin Classics edition, capably translated by Robin Buss, who captures the essence of the soldierly slang of the time. If you think to save money by buying the Wilder Publications edition, you will not. It is a complete waste of money. Buy the Penguin edition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great classic. 28 Jan 2013
I read this novel many years ago as part of the Open University's "War and Society" course. I was deeply moved at the time. I have just re-read it as background for a novel I myself am writing, and am even more affected now by Barbusse's chilling account of the Hell of the fighting on the Western Front.
If ever there was a book which so devastatingly portrays man's sheer stupidity, this is it. All the technological ingenuity and industrial might of many nations devoted to slaughtering each other's young men in their thousands. And to what end? Especially when one considers the irony that the ending of WW1 sowed the seeds for an even greater carnage twenty years later.
Grim reading perhaps. Not for the squeamish certainly. But a great great novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Under Fire translation by Wilder Publications 22 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been desperately disappointed by this translation and had to buy a second proper translation (Penguin Modern Classics). This translation reads as if it was carried out by a computer programme and contains some sentences that do not make proper sense in English. Even the text is not justified but hangs left which seems bizarre for a published book.

I am reading the original French text and wanted a good translation to help with the tougher sections containing slang and jargon. This version is not it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Making nonsense in English, this French classic 15 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Google??? translation so bad that few of the sentences make any sense in English
I bought it to help me understand the French original
the gobbledegook was even harder to understand than the French 'patois' used so frequently in the French edition
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best? 25 April 2008
If you have any interest in the Great War whatsoever, then this book is a must. The best way of describing it is 'Faction'(ie the book is a work of Fiction, based on Barbusses personal experiences of the war - written whilst the war was still raging!)
I would put this book way above All quiet, Storm of Steel and Her Privates We. The differences between the attitudes of the German infantry and the humble Poilu is great. (read Ernst Junger)
This book should be made compulsory for all students studying this subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great memoire of a French soldier 1915. 23 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Thoughtful account of a French soldier's first 16 months in the trenches of WW1. Apart from the philosophising--Barbusse went on to emigrate to Soviet Russia-where he died, the book is a very earthy account of everyday life in the trenches seen from a French perspective. It evokes some of the themes of All Quiet on the Western Front and Birdsong, plus many other tracts about the horror that was trench warfare.
It gives a typically French view of life---the need for wine, bread and cheese all the way through to how to keep a pipe alight in torrential rain. I "enjoyed " it as a true account of a simple recruit's life in Belgium 1915. The descriptions of mud, lice, no food, the horrors of constant shelling, freezing winds, lack of supplies and the general inhumanity and futility of the war are outstanding. The English translation leaves you in no real need of a French vocabulary.

Certainly one to recommend if you want a different country's view on the debacle that was WW1--pity it stops in Dec 1915!!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A view of the Great War seen by a Frenchman
Published 9 days ago by George Redgrave
3.0 out of 5 stars Gritty record of the war
Hav eyet to read but bought on basis of extract in "i" newspaper which was impressive with a gritty record of life at the front
Published 5 months ago by bryanr
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh insight
To read the French experience of WW1 has been an eye-opener for me. More concerned with the day to day struggles of the soldiers than with those, supposedly, 'in command', I loved... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Alice Servina
5.0 out of 5 stars Under Fire
A grim and controversial account of the life of a French 'Poilu' on the Western Front during The Great War. You can almost smell the mud and foulness of the battlefield.
Published on 19 Sep 2011 by Mr. W. J. Neil
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Great War reads
If you like me have read loads of doco books and real accounts on the Great War it becomes difficult to find a new read, this book is so so good , it is rare to find a Poilu's... Read more
Published on 12 Mar 2011 by Mr. Daniel King
3.0 out of 5 stars Remember, it is fiction, not war reportage or a literally factual...
The introduction to "Under Fire" tells us that the book was overwhelmingly well received at the time of publication and was read widely all over Europe. Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2011 by Red Eyes
3.0 out of 5 stars Unrelentingly Grim
I have to admit I struggled with this. Although a relatively short book at a little over 300 pages the content got underway with a grim depiction of hell in the trenches and... Read more
Published on 8 Dec 2010 by anicoll5
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This book is a must-read for people interested in learning about the experience of world war one.
It covers all aspects of the ordinary Poilu's life (leave, reserve,... Read more
Published on 11 Nov 2010 by D. Spencer
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