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14 by Jean Echenoz
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14 (2012)

by Jean Echenoz

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
A lean, somber and poignant novella translated from the French. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
A tightly written and effecting novella about the impact of war on a small group of young men in France. The brief, vivid descriptions of the horrors of war are well-done but less impactful than the quieter, less shocking moments Echenoz describes. A rewarding read for a lazy afternoon. ( )
  katiekrug | Nov 14, 2014 |
Award-winning author Jean Echenoz's novel, 1914, was first published in French two years ago with an even shorter title, just 14. It seems appropriate that this able English translation by Linda Coverdale, just published this year, marks the 100th anniversary of that infamous year that marked the beginning of the Great War, also called "the war to end war." No such luck, of course. Here we are a hundred years hence and wars raging all over the globe. It seems man never learns anything from past mistakes.

It also seems more than coincidence that, while reading 1914, I happened to catch on late night TV, COMING HOME, the 1978 film about the Vietnam War, a movie about the lingering physical, psychological and emotional effects of that war, and how it destroyed lives and wrecked marriages and families.

Although the wars of Hal Ashby's Oscar-winning film and Echenoz's heartbreakingly brief novel were separated by fifty years or more, the two works both managed to convey the utter senselessness of war and its random destruction of innocent lives. 1914 gives us the story of a small group of French soldiers - four friends and the aloof brother of one of them - and one girl that was left behind, 'in trouble.'

1914 is, I think, the first novel of the Great War that I've read that is written from the French point of view, and with French soldiers as the unwilling 'heroes'. These men are poorly trained and kept mostly ignorant, and the omniscient narrator (who often displays a dark gallows sense of humor) notes that soon after the war began, the high command was careful to supply plenty of wine to the troops, "increasingly convinced that inebriating its soldiers helped bolster their courage and, above all, reduce their awareness of their condition." A condition characterized by filth, rats, lice and all manner of unpleasantness that was part of trench warfare.

All of the soldiers eventually began to hope for "the good wound," the one that wouldn't kill you but would invalid you back home. The protagonist, Anthime, got one of these, losing his right arm to shrapnel. And even at that, he is perhaps the luckiest of all the characters here.

The Ardennes, the Somme. These infamous battles of the war are mentioned only briefly, but the four friends were there. They 'adapted' or they died.

The story seems especially significant that, in the opening scene of the book, Anthime, a shoe factory accountant, is bicycling blissfully into the spring countryside on a Saturday to picnic and read - a fat Victor Hugo book, NINETY-THREE, a novel about the French Revolution. Like Echenoz's book, a title with only a number, a year in a war. Interrupted by tolling bells of mobilization, he never does read that book. And yet, despite the unremitting and random horror of the war depicted here, the closing lines of the book suggest at least the possibility of new beginnings. Probably not a "happily-ever-after" kind of thing, but the tiniest suggestion that maybe something good can still be rescued from the wreckage.

1914 will, I am sure, take its rightful place in the ever-growing pantheon of anti-war books. With its short choppy chapters, by turn humorous and horrific, 1914 packs a powerful emotional punch, one that will resonate with thoughtful readers for a long time. Highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Aug 11, 2014 |
Very short novella, about five men from the same French village going to war in the Great War (***). Echenoz is a famous French writer, who apparently can afford to write such short novels and still receive lots of acclaim. My feeling after reading it, was that I still don’t know why Echenoz is great in France. I still haven’t heard his voice loud and clear in a manner that will allow me to recognize his writing elsewhere. I can see he works with humour. I can see he’s typically French in the sense that he writes in long sentences, that aim to mesmerise. The most witty and memorable section of this short novel is the part where he writes about animals in the Great War. He writes about dogs even forgetting their names in no man’s land, about pigeons being ‘promoted to the rank of courier’, and about ‘all sorts of die-hard parasites that, not content with offering no nutritional value whatsoever, on the contrary themselves feed voraciously on the troops’(lice). The story line is thin and straight forward. Of the five men, two are brothers that play a key role in the shoe factory. Both are in love with the beautiful daughter of the owner. The most wealthy, successful brother is supposed to be kept out of the firing line, a transfer being arranged to get him into the air force. The latter however proves unusually lethal. The other bro gets his right arm chopped off by shrapnel and returns home, to the daughter who has given birth to a girl of his deceased brother. They end up together forming a family of sorts. The others die except for one guy who gets out deaf and cripple. Another nugget of the novel is Echenoz’ descriptions of the horror of the war, the war winning, etc. Nice, but too short… ( )
  alexbolding | Aug 10, 2014 |
I assume that a 100 page novella isn't expected to have a lot of depth and development of characters. The work, however, did provide an interesting insight into the futile aspects of war in general, and specifically pertaining to WWI. Would recommend this quick read for history enthusiasts. ( )
  66usma | Jun 30, 2014 |
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Schmidt-Henkel, HinrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Since the weather was so inviting and it was Saturday, a half day, which allowed him to leave work early, Anthime set out on his bicycle after lunch.
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Five Frenchmen go off to war, two of them leaving behind a certain young woman who longs for their return. But the main character in 1914 is the Great War itself. Jean Echenoz, the multi– award– winning French literary magician whose work has been compared to Joseph Conrad and Lawrence Sterne, has brought that deathtrap back to life, leading us gently from a balmy summer day deep into the insatiable— and still unthinkable— carnage of trench warfare.With the delicacy of a miniaturist and with irony both witty and clear– eyed, the author offers us an intimate epic with the atmosphere of a classic movie: in the panorama of a clear blue sky, a biplane spirals suddenly into the ground; a tardy piece of shrapnel shears the top off a man's head as if it were a soft– boiled egg; we dawdle dreamily in a spring– scented clearing with a lonely shell– shocked soldier strolling innocently to a firing squad ready to shoot him for...… (more)

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