Under Fire (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 25 Sep 2003
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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.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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
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!!
Both translators struggle to render Barbusse's version of the salty language of the 'poilus' with any consistency. They also have difficulties, in their different ways, with the abrupt changes of tone between lyrical passages and brutal realism: but there the fault, if any, is in the original. It remains an unforgettable book.
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