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Under Fire

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,529 ratings  ·  141 reviews
Based on his own experience of the Great War, Henri Barbusse's novel is a powerful account of one of the greatest horrors mankind has ever inflicted on itself.

For the group of ordinary men in the French Sixth Battalion, thrown together from all over France and longing for home, war is simply a matter of survival, lightened only by the arrival of their rations or a glimpse
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 31st 2004 by Penguin Classics (first published December 1916)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  1,529 ratings  ·  141 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-french, ww1
”Suddenly a fearful explosion falls on us. I tremble to my skull; a metallic reverberation fills my head; a scorching and suffocating smell of sulphur pierces my nostrils. The earth has opened in front of me. I feel myself lifted and hurled aside—doubled up, choked, and half blinded by this lightning and thunder. But still my recollection is clear; and in that moment when I looked wildly and desperately for my comrade-in-arms, I saw his body go up, erect and black, both his arms outstretched to ...more
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, the central character, having been wounded on the Italian Front, escapes from the army and takes refuge in a hotel in the Alps. While there he meets an old acquaintance who interrogates him on the subject of war literature:

‘What have you been reading?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I'm afraid I am very dull.’
‘No. But you should read.’
‘What is there written in war-time?’
‘There is Le Feu by a Frenchman, Barbusse.’
[…] ‘Those books were at the hospital.’
‘Then you have been r
E. G.
Introduction: Henri Barbusse and the Birth of the Moral Witness, by Jay Winter
Translator's Note

--Under Fire
This book is an essential, but too often ignored, read for anyone interested in World War I, the literature of that period, or war lit in general. As a piece of literature it was highly significant. Published in 1916, it was one of the first works to openly criticise the war and was a major influence on Siegfried Sassoon.
It tells the story of a group of ordinary French soldiers, drawing deeply on Barbusse's own experiences in the trenches. The structure is not a complete narrative, but instead
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: france, fiction
Henri Barbusse's Under Fire is the grand-daddy of all realistic books on infantry warfare. Although, in the last chapter, there is an attempt to step back and meditate on the folly of war, the book is a baleful series of vignettes involving mud. seemingly endless rain, and twisted bodies of fallen soldiers.

We start following the men in a single unit, but as the book goes on, the dramatis personae are whittled down by bullets and shells. In the end, there are only the unnamed narrator and a fell
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is an important book. It is quite short, at just under 300 pages, comprising a series of linked short stories about life in the French trenches during World War One.

I have not been a soldier but this book rings true to me in depicting the life of the "poilu" (literally "hairy one" - the French eqivalent of the British Tommy or poor bloody infantry). The war is nine parts drudgery and boredom to one part terror. Life in the trenches boils down to food, warmth and shelter, looking after your
Life in the trenches for a French battalion during WW1. A harrowing portrait of those who fell and a vivid and moving look at the conditions during those years. Not a plot driven novel more a series of occurrences and memories by the narrator of the story. Nothing romanticised about the times depicted.
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-war
I cannot get my hands on enough material from the Inter-War Period. I admit that I have this problem. I love poilus.

This book has an interesting history of being dragged from fiction to non-fiction and back again. It was originally published in serial form in 1916, making it one of the only works ABOUT World War I to come out before the war itself was ended. Barbusse had at that time been wounded, pulled from the front and relegated to a job in the War Office; he was arguably able to depict more
Apr 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Make no mistake, in the event of war I would be a deserter. Although logically speaking you can’t desert something that you refuse to participate in; you have to engage, in even the most basic, superficial fashion before you can disengage. Whenever I attempt to explain my pacifism, and my attitude towards the military in general, I almost always receive the same, slightly sneering, response: what about the two world wars? It is the last card, the Ace up the sleeve, of the proud patriot. The sugg ...more
Brian Robbins
Apr 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Under Fire

This is a remarkable book.

Barbusse makes vivid use of his own experiences as a soldier during the First World War, to bring alive the day-to-day existence of the rank and file men who served in the trenches. The subtitle “The Story of a Squad” & the dedication: “To the Memory of the Comrades who Fell by My Side at Crouy & on Hill 119”, indicate where his focus and his loyalties lie.

The content ranges widely across the troops experiences, from the boredom and trivialities of much of the
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is one of the most graphic descriptions of the horror of The Great War that I have ever read.

I think it is worth pointing out that Barbusse also focuses on class divisions. Thus we have the "trench tourists" who are little more than curiosity seekers and those who have managed to obtain safe positions behind the lines. Both types arouse the indignation of the ordinary soldier. Then there is the contrast between the conditions of the trench-soldiers as it is reported at home and as it
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I look at their pale, contracted, and reflective faces. They are not soldiers, they are men. They are not adventurers, or warriors, or made for human slaughter, neither butchers nor cattle. They are laborers and artisans whom one recognizes in their uniforms. They are civilians uprooted, and they are ready. They await the signal for death or murder; but you may see, looking at their faces between the vertical gleams of their bayonets, that they are simply men.
This is much more an anti-war novel
Dec 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
As I read this book, particularly the long and agonising section describing what it was like to be under fire, I couldn't help thinking about the early editors who found it necessary to tone down the swearwords, apparently under the impression that these would be more shocking than the great obscenity of the war itself.

My only disappointment with this book was the final chapter, which jarred with me. It didn't ring true after the stunning realism of the rest of the book.

Definitely a must read fo
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I am not sure I have ever read a book which brings to life the realities, both the horrors and the banalities of trench warfare in WWI as well or as beautifully as this one. I read it in English translation, and some of the phrases and images are just heartstoppingly lovely. I would like to tackle the French version, although there is a lot of period slang. Every now and then, you come across a phrase of terrible irony, as when the soldiers muse that the fields have been shelled for weeks a ...more
Dec 17, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Realistic and horrific account of a French WWI soldier and his squad in the trenches, written by a French WWI soldier from the trenches and published during the war. Told in a vignette style that verges on non-fiction memoir, the authentic insight into camp life and the soldiers’ stories and hopes were captivating but the battlefield sections were too graphic for me. Nevertheless, it’s an important novel.
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
A serious, interesting, reportage style, anti war novel that reads like a non fiction account of a squad of around fifteen ordinary Frenchmen experiencing the tragedy of being required to fight against German soldiers in appalling conditions. There are some poignant, memorable scenes. Digging trenches only to find them collapsing inwards due to heavy rainfall and the soldiers lying exhausted, exposed on a hill face. The soldier who returns from the war front for a short time, only to see through ...more
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Semi-autobiographical and written from the notes Barbusse took while he was fighting in World War I, Under Fire is a boots-on-the-ground view of the war. And as even a glancing knowledge of war, and this war in particular, will tell you: it's not pretty. That doesn't mean that the writing can't be pretty, however. Within the first few pages of this book I'd made a note that said, "It's like a novel of Wilfred Owen poetry." I consider that high praise. Just like Owen, Barbusse chooses and layers ...more
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: First world war buffs
Did you know that Under Fire was banned on the Austro-Hungarian front, and its reading was punished by death?

There are no happy endings in Under Fire. The short story-like narrative is interlarded with horrid events, protruding from the despair all around; the reader knows there will be more as he reads on. And still, he does...

The book is all about atmosphere. I've had the fortune to read it during rainy series of days, which only improved the experience. Because aside from war, the central the
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing and at the same time nearly impossible to read. It is one of those books that you have to push yourself to slog through, just as the soldiers have to push themselves to slog through battle. The details of war, for the soldiers on the front lines, are what make this book amazing. The author is speaking from experience, and anyone who thinks they want to join the military is advised to read this book before signing up.

For those who can only take small doses of this stuff, I r
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Found this a bit difficult to get into at first because doesn't really read like a novel, more of a soldier's account, but once accustomed to the style found it brilliant. First published in 1916, very 'straight', unemotional/journalistic portrayal of the absolute horrors and appalling conditions endured by all those men in the first world war. Hard to think about my grandfathers (and everyone else's grandfathers or great grandfathers) experiencing that. I'm amazed that any of them managed to le ...more
This was a very different slant into the horrors of fighting in WWI. Barbusse depicts the lives of men who find themselves in the front line. They do not think of themselves as soldiers. There are many chapters on the mundane - their meals, trying to find somewhere to rest, endless debates on trivial issues just to past the time. Then there are chapters which are brutal in the men's experiences. I could not believe how relaxed they seemed, detached even. They hoped to survive but were very ambiv ...more
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I am generally very wary of patois, créole and other celebration of idiolectic regionalism, as it can be found in French naturalist and late-romantic fiction; There is no doubt a part of ideology in that rejection, and a part of ignorance too, but in my experience vernacular dialogues generally tend to make up for uneventful conversation with exotic terminology. So when I engaged the six hundred pages of Barbusse’s “Le Feu” to find that the narrator (pretty much the only character who could be e ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, reading-europe
Woow, this was pretty surprising! I'm not much into war literature, I just read it because I bought the book once in a sale for a ridiculous price. But now, after I finished, I'm just surprised and stunned. Let's start with the artistic side. It's written so well, the language is readable (unlike many other "classic authors") and descriptive part is so skilfully balanced with the story part. And about the story part - unbelievable. Everyone should read this at least once in their lives. These ar ...more
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-books
Riveting account of life in the trenches for the ordinary French soldier in WWI. No gruesome detail is spared from the reader, nor the physical and mental energy required just to make it through a day. The author's small band of brothers do little more than exist, but their individual characters come out well in the writing. Remarkably, it was published actually during the war in 1916, which perhaps explains why Barbusse's invective is directed less against the bungling generals that hindsight m ...more
Nov 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a compelling and very personal account of life in the trenches in World War One. It contains some very memorable and powerful imagery and statements. This was one in the last chapter, entitled, "The Dawn," which really spoke to me. "More than attacks that are like ceremonial reviews, more than visible battles unfurled like banners, more even than the hand-to-hand encounters of shouting strife, War is frightful and unnatural weariness, water up to the belly, mud and dung and infamous filt ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Starting out slowly, Barbusse builds up a picture of the trenches of WWI that focuses on the dreary monotony, lice, mud, discomfort and bad food. This makes the eventual climatic scenes of dismembered and drowned bodies, scattered on a pointless killing field that may not be strategically significant (not that the rank and file would know) compelling, although the somewhat improbably literary anti-war soliloquies that close the book are more philosophical than reportorial.
The writing is often sp
John Freeman
Apr 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you read only one WWI-based novel for the centenary of the Great War, make that book Henri Barbusse's Under Fire. Few books capture the filth, boredom, monotony, camaraderie, gruelling fatigue, horror, and brutality of war as this one does.

Barbusse's battlefield descriptions defy belief, and seem as alien as the moon...and as featureless. But look at some pictures from the trenches and you will see that his descriptions are accurate and that other worldly is the only way to call it.
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The second greatest European tragedy and crime against Europe and its people, after the colonialism, was the First World War. Barbusse witness the mindless horror himself - wrote and published it on the fly, and 103 years later it still leaves an indelible trace in the mind of anyone who'll read it. ...more
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Make sure your french is up to it before starting. Loved (and sweated all along) how Barbusse makes the soldiers so alive through their talk. A grittier 'All quiet in the western front' full of trench jargon and patois. ...more
John Compton
Jul 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very well written, an excellent critique of the stupidity of World War I, - the last couple of chapters are incredibly horrible.
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Henri Barbusse (1873-1935) was a French novelist and a member of the French Communist Party.

The son of a French father and an English mother, Barbusse was born in Asnières-sur-Seine, France in 1873. Although he grew up in a small town, he left for Paris in 1889 at age 16. In 1914, at the age of 41, he enlisted in the French Army and served against Germany in World War I. Invalided out of the army

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