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The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World Warby Peter Englund
Synopses & Reviews
In this masterly, highly original narrative history, Peter Englund takes a revelatory new approach to the history of World War I, magnifying its least examined, most stirring component: the experiences of the average man and woman—not only the tragedy and horror but also the absurdity and even, at times, the beauty.
The twenty people from whose journals and letters Englund draws are from Belgium, Denmark, and France; Great Britain, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Italy, Australia, and New Zealand; Russia, Venezuela, and the United States. There is a young man in the British army infantry who had been considering emigrating until the war offered him its “grand promise of change” and a middle-aged French civil servant, a socialist and writer whose “faith simply crumbled” at the outbreak of war. There is a twelve-year-old German girl thrilled with the news of the army’s victories because it means that she and her classmates are allowed to shout and scream at school. There is an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat, living a life of quiet luxury when the war begins but who will be moved, ultimately, to declare: Looking Death in the eyes, one loses the fear of Him. From field surgeon to nurse to fighter pilot, some are on the Western Front, others in the Balkans, East Africa, Mesopotamia. Two will die, one will never hear a shot fired; some will become prisoners of war, others will be celebrated as heroes. But despite their various war-time occupations and fates, genders and nationalities, they will be united by their involvement—witting or otherwise—in The Great, and terrible, War.
A brilliant mosaic of perspectives that moves between the home front and the front lines, The Beauty and the Sorrow reconstructs the feelings, impressions, experiences, and shifting spirits of these twenty particular people, allowing them to speak not only for themselves but also for all those who were in some way shaped by the war, but whose voices have been forgotten, rejected, or simply remained unheard.
"In a brilliant feat of retrospective journalism, leading Swedish historian Englund allows 20 individuals during WWI to convey their experiences through diaries and letters: among them, an English nurse in the Russian army, a British infantryman awarded the Victoria Cross, a German seaman, and a Venezuelan cavalryman in the Ottoman army. Englund's deft collation provides insights into more than the carnage; for example, a French infantryman at Verdun knows, despite lower figures in newspaper reports, that he went into battle with 100 men and only 30 returned. Lacking only a Turkish Muslim view, this book fleshes out the grim statistics of the Great War. Writing in the present tense as though immersed in the events, Englund describes typhus and malnutrition, the Ottoman slaughter of Armenians, French troops' mutinies, erosion of European colonialism in Africa, and governments' suppression of the extent of their armies' losses. The eloquence of everyday participants — a German schoolgirl describes the war as 'a ghost in grey rags, a skull with maggots crawling out of it' — will link the reader to the era when the origins of the ensuing century's conflicts became apparent. 32 pages of photos." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A highly original and revelatory narrative history of World War I that brings into focus its least examined, most stirring component: the experience of the average man or woman.
To create this intimate picture of what war was really like, Peter Englund draws from the diaries, journals, and letters of twenty individuals. They hail from Belgium and Denmark, Austria and Hungary, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and Venezuela. Some fight on the Western Front, others in the Alps or Mesopotamia; some never see a battlefield. There is a twelve-year-old German schoolgirl, an English nurse in the Russian army, a French civil servant, an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat—all of whom will be united by their involvement, witting or otherwise, in The Great, and terrible, War.
A brilliant mosaic of perspectives, the narrative reads with a depth of feeling and an evocation of time and place we might expect of a novel, and allows these twenty men and women to speak for not only themselves, but also for all of those who were in some way shaped by the war, yet whose voices remain unheard.
About the Author
Peter Englund is a Swedish historian, who has received numerous prizes in his own country and whose works have been translated into fifteen languages. He has also been working as a war correspondent in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Englund is a member of the Swedish Academy (which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature), and in 2008 was appointed its new permanent secretary, an office he still holds.
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