NO MAN’S LAND – Pete Ayrton, editor
  Book Reviews    April 4, 2015     Eric Larkin

No Man’s Land is an anthology of First World War fiction and memoirs. Perhaps what makes this book unique is the breadth (covering 20 nations thru 47 writers) and the intimacy of the entries. There is not much in the way of “the big picture”. It’s not a military history (e.g. nothing really from the air war or why generals did this or that) but more a human chronicle, covering everything from Turkish/Armenian atrocities to the plight of VADs (volunteer nurses), at ground level. Imagine a room full of people who were in every theater, at home and abroad, and you get to hear each person’s story. You are allowed a glimpse through the distorted vision of a few, like Whyndam Lewis, who managed to feel the romance of assembly-line evisceration. There is dark humor amongst the ANZACs in Robin Hyde’s recounting of a fat, wounded Captain being carried thru trenches to an aid station, when he is forced to wait behind a group of Punjabs and Gurkhas slaughtering a goat. Surreal tragicomedy comes from Greek Stratis Myrivilis when a field of amorous donkeys becomes so loud, they attract shell fire, with nightmare-inducing results. There is a meta-element to the book, too. Pete Ayrton gives informal notes (“Maybe not someone you would want to go out drinking with, but Céline sure can write!”) on each author, people who themselves were involved in the war, including their fates, from Siberia to Pulitzer Prize. The distance of a hundred years is quickly stripped away. In place of the usual black & white photos of Tommies in the trenches, you feel flesh and hot fluid and fear. The curtain of illusion drops all around: “How pointless all human thoughts, words and deeds must be, if things like this are possible! Everything must have been fraudulent and pointless if thousands of years of civilization weren’t even able to prevent this river of blood”. (Remarque)

“HELPING A WOUNDED COMRADE” photo of stereograph courtesy of John Kroll

 

“But fear isn’t something to be ashamed of: it is a natural revulsion of the body to something for which it wasn’t made…. What has made us so exhausted is precisely that struggle between mental discipline and flesh in revolt, the exposed, whimpering flesh that we have to beat into submission so we can get up again… Conscious courage, mademoiselle, starts with fear.” (Jules Romaine)

 

This commercial is a bit Hollywoodized maybe, but this incident actually happened.

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