Fear: A Novel of World War I (New York Review Books Classics)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
An NYRB Classics Original
Winner of the Scott Moncrieff Prize for Translation
1915: Jean Dartemont heads off to the Great War, an eager conscript. The only thing he fears is missing the action. Soon, however, the vaunted “war to end all wars” seems like a war that will never end: whether mired in the trenches or going over the top, Jean finds himself caught in the midst of an unimaginable, unceasing slaughter. After he is wounded, he returns from the front to discover a world where no one knows or wants to know any of this. Both the public and the authorities go on talking about heroes—and sending more men to their graves. But Jean refuses to keep silent. He will speak the forbidden word. He will tell them about fear.
John Berger has called Fear “a book of the utmost urgency and relevance.” A literary masterpiece, it is also an essential and unforgettable reckoning with the terrible war that gave birth to a century of war.
Nothing! You’re part of the quota, just a tool, about as much as a shovel handle. If you’re still alive, it’s because the shells couldn’t be bothered with you!’ We had a score to settle with the enemy. It had to be done. The battalion prepared a surprise attack which took place a fortnight later. The affair cost us several wounded and thousands of projectiles. But the Germans had known only too well that a riposte was coming and had evacuated their trenches as soon as we fired the first shells.
lose, they retire on a fat pension and spend the rest of their lives justifying themselves in their memoirs. It’s all too easy to be sincere when you make sure you’re well out of harm’s way.’ ‘But even so there have been some great figures, like Guynemer and Driant.’42 ‘Obviously there have been men of conviction and others who’ve done an honest job. Guynemer, sure! But remember that he performed way up in the heavens, before a bloody great public: the whole earth. That makes you a man to
less intense, falters, and quickly dies away. There are a few bursts of gunfire, then silence. Twilight descends. The reserve platoon forms up in battle order and advances cautiously. They don’t encounter anyone. We get back to the command post, jumping over a few shell-holes. Runners are sent off straight away to gather information from each platoon. The sector is unrecognisable. Trenches are blocked and I often have to walk along the parapets. Nearing the front line I call out to avoid walking
into me; the wounded cry out in the corner where they have been left temporarily. I concentrate on pointless tasks. But I only hear the shells. The whole of the Chemin des Dames is shaking, and inside I am shaking with it. I believe that if I had sufficient willpower to go out and go through a bombardment, it would free me from my obsession, like a highly dangerous vaccine can temporarily immunise those who can tolerate it. But I do not have that willpower and if I did I would not be so
only things I can do well are those that I enjoy and I can only enjoy things where I use my brain. Army life makes fewer demands on the brain than any other activity. Necessarily so, because it allows the army to swell its ranks with more and more soldiers, and because it can easily reconstitute itself once they’ve been decimated. ‘Atten-shun!’ – the army’s entire strength rests on that command, on silent obedience which destroys the capacity for rational thought. You can see why it is vital.