The OF Blog: A query: What are some of the good novels of World War I?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A query: What are some of the good novels of World War I?

Later this year, on July 28, the centennial of the Great War/World War I will occur.  This period, 1914-1918, and the period that immediately follows it, 1919-1938, was of great interest to me when I was completing my MA in European History (emphasis on German cultural/religious).  I am fairly well-read on the non-fiction, but I am thinking of mixing in some fictional works, both those written by those who lived though/fought in the war, as well as works that appeared decades later.  What are some of the titles that you know of/have read?  Below is an incomplete listing of works that I have already read (there are many others that I could list, but I don't want to look up how to spell the author's name or the title to make sure):

John dos Passos, The Three Soldiers

Erick Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (and its immediate sequels)

Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun

Pat Barker, Regeneration trilogy

Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War

There are a handful of others that come to mind, but what I really need to discover are works that were written in French, Italian, German, and the Slavic languages.  If you know of any, whether they were written in the 1910s or 192s or whether they were written decades later, please list the titles, as I would like to do a special series of commentaries/reviews from June-August on the war.  Already have a few memoirs/histories in mind for this as well (Modris Eksteins, Barbara Tuchman, Robert Graves, Ernst Jünger, Paul Fussell, etc.), not to mention some poetry, but I would like a few more novels to round things out.  So...what are your suggestions?


Ray Garraty said...

Check out John Boyne. I think at least two of his books are about WWI.

Lsrry said...

Shall do. Looks like The Absolutist would be a promising title indeed. Thanks!

Tudor said...

Padurea Spanzuratilor (Forest of the Hanged) (1922) by Liviu Rebreanu, who is perhaps the best Romanian novel writer. Forest of the Hanged is one of the greatest novels about the Eastern Front:

"In 1916 Romanian Apostol Bologa is an officer in the Habsburg Army and he reports for duty on the front lines determined to do his duty. Unfortunately for him the enemy is the Romanian Army just a few yards away from the German Austrian lines. Apostol Bologa hesitates between doing his duty within the Habsburg Army and joining his Romanian brethren across the enemy lines."

The book was turned into a movie by Liviu Ciulei. The movie is regarded by many the greatest Romanian movie of all time and it won Ciulei the Cannes Film Festival's best director award in 1965.

You can find the movie on Youtube, with English subtitles:

me. said...

Strange I was just looking at, 'The Forest of the Hanged', perhaps another well known novel is 'Le Feu'/'Under Fire' by Henri Barbusse, I've just got it out from the library. Also in French is Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, who wrote some short stories from his experiences in the first world war.

There's quite a few I'd like to read - 'A Very Long Engagement' by Sebastien Japrisot, which I think is soon to be reissued, also perhaps Romain Rolland's 'Pierre and Luce' and also Rebecca West's 'A Soldier Returns'. I'm sure a lot more will come to light over the year.

Lsrry said...

These are exactly what I want! Unfortunately, Forest of the Hanged is only available at one place for $100, so I'm going to try and read it in Romanian (only $15 total to import it), despite my rudimentary understanding of the language.

The Barbusse I found for free in both French and English translation, so I downloaded both from Amazon. Will look for the other titles shortly. Again, thanks!

Matthew Cheney said...

This blog my be of interest to you:

See also the anthology Lost Voices of World War I edited by Tim Cross, which sought to include writers from every country in the war.

Somewhat related, here's a good piece on what the soldiers themselves might have been reading:

Lsrry said...

Thanks for the links, Matt, as these look very promising indeed! And yes, I would love to have more of the primary source material at hand (thinking of emailing an old professor of mine who specializes in the Eastern Front for suggestions). Wish I had kept my notes from that class, as it was something else. I do know that I will most likely review Rites of Spring as part of this project.

Meytal Radzinski said...

French: Christian Signol's Un Matin Sur la Terre - not a perfect novel nor particularly detail heavy, but I thought it was an interesting comparison of men and women's lives during the war.

Are you also looking for stuff about the Armenian genocide? Not exactly the Great War as we generally think of it, but there are some great books out there.

Unknown said...

Italian war novels tend to be few and far between and there aren't many WWI novels the come to mind.

The only outstanding example I can think of (at least from what I've read) is Mario Rigoni Stern's Altopiano trilogy (Storia di Tönle, L'anno della vittoria, Le stagioni di Giacomo), the first 2 of which prominently feature the war.

On the other hand, Italian Great War memoirs on the other hand are plentiful and, since none was listed in the post, I'm going to name at least the two which I consider must reads.
Emilio Lussu - Un anno sull'Altipiano (Sardinian Brigade): By far the most read Italian book on the war (and rightly so), also the only one which you might be able to track down in translation
Carlo Salsa - Trincee: the best "war diary" style account of the war just make sure you get a version with the original text and not the bowdlerized fascist era version.

Some other memoirs worth reading:
Carlo Emilio Gadda - Diario di guerra e di prigionia
Ardengo Soffici - Kobilek
Paolo Monelli - Le scarpe al sole

Lsrry said...

These look promising as well! Thanks for the recs and feel free to suggest more in related fields.

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