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4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Under Fire (Penguin Modern Classics)
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on 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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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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on 30 March 2017
This book ought to be on the school curriculum as a testament to the horrors of war. It demonstrates how ordinary men can be convinced by vested interests to sacrifice precious life for things as transient as borders, ideals, religion etc. These things that only the vested interests gain from but never sacrifice for.
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on 9 March 2017
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on 22 May 2014
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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on 15 May 2014
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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on 23 December 2013
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 December 2014
'Le Feu' is one of the classics of war literature, composed by the invalided author while the war was still being fought, and published to a mixture of outrage and admiration in 1916. This translation appears to be the contemporary one of William Fitzwater Wray, (1917), which for a long time was the only one easily available, and is - I believe - now out of copyright. It is serviceable, but in 2014 bears the marks of having been written nearly a century ago. 'Under Fire' itself is essential reading for anyone interested in the subject, but the more recent translation by the late Robin Buss for Penguin (2003) is now preferred, if available.

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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on 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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on 28 January 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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