By Jean Echenoz
With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with a real understatement that's either witty and clear-eyed, Echenoz deals us an intimate epic: within the landscape of a transparent blue sky, a bi-plane spirals all at once into the floor; a bit of shrapnel shears the pinnacle off a man’s head as though it have been a soft-boiled egg; we dawdle dreamily in a spring-scented clearing with a lonely shell-shocked soldier jogging innocently towards a firing squad able to shoot him for desertion.
Ultimately, the grace notes of humanity in 1914 upward push above the terrors of battle during this superbly crafted story that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
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Extra resources for 1914: A Novel
Then he started asking around, questioning tight-lipped and supercilious noncoms at first, until a more cooperative sergeant told him one evening that Charles had been transferred, no one knew where, a military secret. Anthime hardly reacted at all, he was so dead on his feet. In the evenings, moreover, it was often quite a challenge to find a place to sleep where the troop had halted. Since there wasn’t much room for the men in the villages, half the company was usually obliged to try sleeping outdoors; when a village was deserted, the luckiest men camped in abandoned houses, where there might still be a bit of furniture and even sometimes beds, but no bedding.
And his brother, aside from that, asked Monteil. Excuse me, said Blanche, whose brother? Charles’s brother, Monteil prompted her, have you any news? Postcards, replied Blanche, he sends them regularly. And even a letter, from time to time. At the moment, I think they’re in the Somme, he’s not complaining very much. That’s fine, then, observed Monteil. Anyway, Blanche reminded him, he’s never been one for complaints, Anthime. You know how he is: he always adapts. 10 AS A MATTER OF FACT, Anthime had adapted.
Which Monteil had said in turn, because many had believed this back then. Except that two weeks later, four weeks later, after more and still more weeks, once it had begun to rain and the days had grown ever shorter and colder, events did not turn out as expected. Still, on the day after their arrival in the Ardennes, things hadn’t looked that dire. One couldn’t complain about the weather, a trifle cooler than in the Vendée; the air was pure, crisp, and the men felt good, on the whole. Of course they’d been treated to drilling that morning with packs and gear, but this is fairly normal in the army, it’s practically like playing a game.
1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz