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Old 12-05-2014, 10:14 PM   #1
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Under Fire: The Story of a Squad by Henri Barbusse

This is the MR Literary Club selection for December 2014. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time! Guests are also always welcome.


GoodreadsGutenbergAmazon AUAmazon CAAmazon UKAmazon USKobo
MR Library original French edition uploaded by Karl MayMR Library German edition uploaded by Karl May


So, what are your thoughts on it?


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Old 12-05-2014, 10:20 PM   #2
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Billi's gutenberg link is a great bet, but if you're looking elsewhere I noticed that for some reason the title is often "Le Feu, English" for the free version. I haven't checked yet if there are more than one translation, but I think the English links above are all to the same (free) translation.
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Old 12-05-2014, 11:38 PM   #3
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I learned that the title of the book is taken from the title of one of the most famous chapters within it. I was also surprised that Barbusse was 41 when he enlisted in the French Army in 1914.
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Old 12-06-2014, 08:23 AM   #4
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In my search to purchase a copy of the 2003 Penguin edition translated by Robin Buss, I came across this interesting web page:

Teaching Le Feu/Under Fire by Henri Barbusse

Buss's translation of The Count of Monte Cristo was what convinced me that the translation means everything and is worth the price.
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Old 12-06-2014, 09:16 AM   #5
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Thanks BelleZora! I haven't had time to look at translations here yet but you've saved me the trouble as Buss is a great translator (I read his Dumas as well) and is easily the way to go for me.

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Old 12-06-2014, 11:05 AM   #6
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Thanks BelleZora! I haven't had time to look at translations here yet but you've saved me the trouble as Buss is a great translator (I read his Dumas as well) and is easily the way to go for me.
I have the Buss translation of The Count of Monte Cristo as well! One of my favorite classics.

Under Fire was on my TBR list, and I already have a copy so I'm going to stick with the older translation. Best of luck finding the Buss translation. Most prices are $15-17. Rakuten has 1 new copy from $11.40.
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Old 12-07-2014, 07:38 AM   #7
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I have just started this today, reading the version from Gutenberg, and am finding it very good indeed. It is totally convincing - I almost feel I am there in the trench with these men in their motley array of clothing, their dirt and exhaustion. The end of chapter 2 really grabbed me:

Quote:
We leave by the communication trench at right angles to our own, and straight ahead towards the changeful frontier, now alive and terrible.

Up in the sombre sky, the strong staccato panting of an invisible aeroplane circles in wide descending coils and fills infinity. In front, to right and left, everywhere, thunderclaps roll with great glimpses of short-lived light in the dark-blue sky.
And this from earlier in the same chapter:

Quote:
"We've got to do what they tell us to do, until they tell us to go away." ... This evidently, is the credo of the men who, a year and a half ago, left all the corners of the land to mass themselves on the frontier: Give up trying to understand, and give up trying to be yourself. Hope that you will not die, and fight for life as well as you can.
Powerful stuff.
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Old 12-07-2014, 07:57 AM   #8
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Oh, and thanks for the website, Belle.
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Old 12-08-2014, 08:41 AM   #9
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I ordered the paperback Penguin edition translated by Robin Buss from Amazon on Saturday. It arrived on the front porch early yesterday - Sunday - delivered by a USPS truck. Amazon has become stunningly efficient.

In the Translator's Note, Buss writes that much of the novel is written in dialogue using the language of the French soldiers in the trenches. He was able to restore some of the language omitted in Wray's translation because English printers are no longer so easily offended. What Buss tried to do was adopt a language that conveys the feel of the slang used by Barbusse without making it too specific or obscure, making the book "more immediate and less musty". For me, this was worth the $11.44 price tag.
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Old 12-08-2014, 09:37 AM   #10
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I ordered the paperback Penguin edition translated by Robin Buss from Amazon on Saturday. It arrived on the front porch early yesterday - Sunday - delivered by a USPS truck. Amazon has become stunningly efficient.

In the Translator's Note, Buss writes that much of the novel is written in dialogue using the language of the French soldiers in the trenches. He was able to restore some of the language omitted in Wray's translation because English printers are no longer so easily offended. What Buss tried to do was adopt a language that conveys the feel of the slang used by Barbusse without making it too specific or obscure, making the book "more immediate and less musty". For me, this was worth the $11.44 price tag.
Thanks for the explanation!
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Old 12-09-2014, 02:23 PM   #11
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Thanks, BelleZora, for the very interesting link and the explanations regarding the translations.

I just got my library copy and can start reading this evening. I think this book is a good companion to "Testament of Youth" and "The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon" as well as "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Rites of Spring" from the general book club this year. We now have the First World War broadly covered!
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Old 12-10-2014, 11:59 AM   #12
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I just got my library copy and can start reading this evening. I think this book is a good companion to "Testament of Youth" and "The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon" as well as "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Rites of Spring" from the general book club this year. We now have the First World War broadly covered!
Under Fire is indeed a good companion to the books we've read (although I missed Sassoon). I feel that it is the most beautifully written. I don't think I've read a book using such powerful and beautiful language since Fermor's A Time of Gifts.

I've never been quite clear on what makes a book 'literary' fiction. But I must know it when I see it because I have no doubt that this book qualifies. I expected Under Fire to be an important book, but I'm delighted that it is also a pleasure to read because of the author's (and translator's) mastery of language.

Thanks, Billi, for bringing this book to our attention.
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Old 12-10-2014, 12:12 PM   #13
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Under Fire is indeed a good companion to the books we've read (although I missed Sassoon). I feel that it is the most beautifully written.
Agree on both accounts. I recommend that you read Sassoon when you have time. I didn't read it with the group either, and I'm very glad that I picked it up later. Another option is to chose a book with multiple poets from the era. There are a few recommended in the Sassoon discussion thread. I think war poetry is a nice complement to the novels of the time.

I think that it's interesting that Under Fire was published during the war and is so realistic considering the censorship in the news and elsewhere to keep patriotism high.
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Old 12-14-2014, 11:48 AM   #14
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Thanks, BelleZora, for the very interesting link and the explanations regarding the translations.

I just got my library copy and can start reading this evening. I think this book is a good companion to "Testament of Youth" and "The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon" as well as "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Rites of Spring" from the general book club this year. We now have the First World War broadly covered!
Yes, and having read A Soldier on the Southern Front: The Classic Italian Memoir of World War I by Emilio Lussu last April I can add the Italian soldier's experience as well. What I have never read, or at least never read a book where it was the focus, was the experience of a Russian soldier in World War I. Many books where the war is mentioned as a prelude or a cause to the Russian Revolution, but none that really says much about the experience of Russian fighting men during [Czarist] Russia's participation. I can understand that the revolution sucked all the oxygen out of the room in terms of writing about anything else, but it is odd considering what the cost to Russia was in terms of casualties in WWI.



Perhaps our resident WWI scholar knows of a literary grade effort for a Russian soldier? Any suggestions Issybird?

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I ordered the paperback Penguin edition translated by Robin Buss from Amazon on Saturday. It arrived on the front porch early yesterday - Sunday - delivered by a USPS truck. Amazon has become stunningly efficient.

In the Translator's Note, Buss writes that much of the novel is written in dialogue using the language of the French soldiers in the trenches. He was able to restore some of the language omitted in Wray's translation because English printers are no longer so easily offended. What Buss tried to do was adopt a language that conveys the feel of the slang used by Barbusse without making it too specific or obscure, making the book "more immediate and less musty". For me, this was worth the $11.44 price tag.

I went with the free ebook version because it was free and an ebook. Early on though when I encountered this piece of dialog I wondered if I should rethink:

Quote:
"Another night gone, old chap."
"Yes, sonny; how many more like it still?"
I'm getting into it just fine now though. I really enjoyed how Barbusse set the stage in the first chapter.
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Old 12-14-2014, 05:15 PM   #15
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Thanks for that link Hamlet. The numbers of those killed and those otherwise damaged (possibly not including those injured mentally rather than physically) are quite staggering when you see them all written down like that.

I too am finding the book very powerful. The part where the narrator and his friend came upon a place where the dead had been laid out on the ground and were rotting was all the more horrific because of the matter-of-fact way in which it was described. It's a wonder that any of the soldiers came out of the war with any sanity left at all.
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