Fear is a classic of war literature, a book to place on the shelf with Storm of Steel, A Farewell to Arms, and Going After Cacciato. Jean Dartemont, the hero of Gabriel Chevallier’s autobiographical novel, enters what was not yet known as World War I in 1915, when it was just beginning to be clear that a war that all the combatants were initially confident would move swiftly to a conclusion was instead frozen murderously in place. After enduring the horrors of the trenches and the deadly leagues of no-man’s-land stretching beyond them, Jean is wounded and hospitalized. Away from the front, he confronts the relentless blindness of the authorities and much of the general public to the hideous realities of modern, mechanized combat. Jean decides he must resist. How? By telling the simple truth. Urged to encourage new recruits with tales of derring-do service, Jean does not mince words. What did he do on the battlefield? He responds like a man: “I was afraid.”
Acclaimed as “the most beautiful book ever written on the tragic events that blood-stained Europe” for five years, prosecuted on first publication as an act of sedition, Fear appears for the first time in the United States in Malcolm Imrie’s poetic and prizewinning translation on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the conflict with which the twentieth century came into its own. Chevallier’s masterpiece remains, in the words of John Berger, “a book of the utmost urgency and relevance.”
~Goodreads page summary~
‘We are lying in the ditch, flat as corpses, squeezed together to make ourselves smaller, welded into a single strange reptile of three hundred shuddering bodies and pounding chests. The experience of shelling is always the same: a crushing, relentless savagery, hunting us down.”
Chevalier’s brutal literary tour de force is more than powerful. The Great War is depicted in such suffering and horrific accounts it renders the reader helpless. Imagining the chaos and severity troops faced is formidable. His anti-war voice echoes forcing one to revisit the savageness and depth of why. A stunningly ugly journey of a young soldier in the trenches, injured, returns to the front until armistice is reached. Vividly brought before the perusers eyes in bold technicolor including the carnage and destruction battle brings. The narrative switches from the eerie silence before the cacophony of instruments of death, to the sweat dripping from a soldiers brow, to crimson flowing from a mortal wound. A disgustingly beautiful salient piece of literature with arresting prose leaving a lasting impact.