Why this book?
The notebooks kept by a French barrelmaker and father sent off to the horrors of the Western Front had an underground presence for many decades. However, Poilu, the word means hairy one and became the apt term for the French infantryman in the war, did not reach a wide audience until its publication in France in 1978. It became an antiwar classic and a bestseller, only recently published in an English translation. “Cheating death,” he writes, was both a matter of luck amidst “this monstrous avalanche of metal,” this “veritable curtain of steel and fire,” “the disagreeable tic-tac of machine guns,” that pounded men “into marmalade,” and what Barthas described as “a mysterious intuition, an instinct about the imminence of danger” that told him “it was time to flee.” Yet he ventured as close to death and the dead as one can be without joining them. The barrelmaker closes his war notebooks in 1919 on sincere and tender yet bitter note. Although he “returned to the bosom of my family after the nightmare years,” he often thought about his fallen comrades. “I heard their curses against the war and its authors, the revolt of their whole beings against their tragic fate, against their murder.” One hundred years on, Barthas’ Poilu continues that revolt.
Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918
Why should I read it?
2 authors picked Poilu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.
What is this book about?
The harrowing first-person account of a French foot soldier who survived four years in the trenches of the First World War
Along with millions of other Frenchmen, Louis Barthas, a thirty-five-year-old barrelmaker from a small wine-growing town, was conscripted to fight the Germans in the opening days of World War I. Corporal Barthas spent the next four years in near-ceaseless combat, wherever the French army fought its fiercest battles: Artois, Flanders, Champagne, Verdun, the Somme, the Argonne. Barthas' riveting wartime narrative, first published in France in 1978, presents the vivid, immediate experiences of a frontline soldier.
This excellent new translation…