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The original translation of one of the first World War I novels—at first criticized for its harsh realism but now celebrated as a classic.
Set in early 1916, Under Fire follows the point of view of an unnamed foot soldier in a squad of French volunteers on the western front. It combines soaring, poetic descriptions with the mundane, messy, human reality of soldiers living in their own filth. Gradually, names and features are given to the men who emerge from the mud, from the dignified leader, Corporal Bertrand, to the ebullient Volpatte and the obsessive Cocon.
Intermingled with details of how the men navigate daily life in the putrefied atmosphere of the trenches is a political, pacifist argument about this war and war more generally. Caught up in events they cannot control, the soldiers go through their daily routines: foraging for food, reading letters from wives and mothers, drinking, fighting in battle, and, in harrowing scenes for which the novel is noted, discovering dead bodies in advanced stages of decomposition. Through it all, they talk about the war, attempting to make sense of the altered world in which they find themselves.
Under Fire (originally published in French as Le Feu) drew criticism at the time of its publication for its brutal detail, but went on to win the Prix Goncourt, a prestigious literary award that Henri Barbusse—a World War I soldier who wrote from vivid, painful experience—shares with renowned authors such as Marcel Proust and Marguerite Duras. Here, the original translation by William Fitzwater Wray, which first appeared in 1917, captures both the intensity of the story and the essence of the era. A glossary is also provided.