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 by surprise into the floor; a section of shrapnel shears the head 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 walking 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 conflict during this fantastically crafted story that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
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Extra resources for 1914: A Novel
The men seemed excited, on edge in the heat, turning to call to one another, gesturing broadly but with seeming confidence. Anthime dropped off his bicycle at home before joining the general movement now flowing in from every direction toward the main square, where a smiling crowd milled around waving bottles and flags, gesticulating, dashing about, leaving barely enough space for the horse-drawn vehicles already arriving laden with passengers. Everyone appeared well pleased with the mobilization in a hubbub of feverish debates, hearty laughter, hymns, fanfares, and patriotic exclamations punctuated by the neighing of horses.
It was the regimental band, whose conductor, white baton in hand, brought it down to conjure up “La Marseillaise,” aiming to provide valiant commentary on the assault. The enemy had taken up strong defensive positions concealed in a wood, so the men had trouble advancing at first, but when the artillery behind the troop joined the fray to weaken the foe the men tried again to attack, running clumsily hunched over, hampered by their impedimenta, each man leading with his bayonet and spearing the frozen air before him.
Besides his mind wasn’t in good shape for thinking, only for trying to shoot at whatever seemed hostile and above all for hunting down some possible cover wherever it might be. Luckily, although the road immediately received a proper drubbing from enemy fire, it did have low-lying areas here and there where the men had at first been able to seek shelter for a short while. But for too short a while: barked orders prodded the first lines of infantry off the road and into the oat field alongside it where they were clearly at risk and now, not content with taking fire from the enemy, the men began receiving it as well in the back from the imprudent shooting of their own forces, after which disorder spread swiftly through the ranks.
1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz