By Jean Echenoz
With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with an 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 all of sudden into the floor; a bit 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 struggle during this superbly crafted story that Echenoz tells with discretion, precision, and love.
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Additional resources for 1914: A Novel
On that first day of August, standing alone on the hill, Anthime let his gaze linger over the panorama, taking in the five or six small market towns scattered below: clusters of low houses congregated around a belfry, linked by a slender network of roads on which the few automobiles were far outnumbered by oxcarts and draft horses hauling harvested grain. It was certainly a pleasant landscape, albeit one temporarily disrupted by that noisy, truly unseasonable eruption of wind rampaging everywhere within earshot, which forced Anthime to keep clutching his cap.
Clutching his rifle, he himself now felt ready to stab, impale, transfix the slightest obstacle, the bodies of men, of animals, tree trunks, whatever might present itself: a fleeting state of mind yet absolute, blind, excluding all others, but in the event the opportunity never arose. He continued to advance with all the others, laboriously, without lingering over the details, but the ground thus gained did not remain that way for long: the company had to withdraw almost immediately, since their position was not tenable without reinforcements that did not arrive.
When she spoke of a possible intervention, with the hope of an assignment other than the infantry, Monteil asked what she might have in mind. Well, suggested Blanche, aside from the factory, which takes up all his time, Charles is very interested in aviation and photography. Perhaps there might be something to be done along those lines, replied Monteil. The Air Service, I believe they call it now. Let me think about this, I might have someone in mind at the ministry, I’ll keep you informed. To the general practitioner she explained her situation, showing him her figure under her clothing, and the exam did not take long.