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Back to the Front
     

Back to the Front

5.0 2
by Stephen O'Shea
 
A rich and sobering exploration of war -- and of the meaning of history -- that will engage general readers and military buffs alike. The Western Front, the sinuous, deadly line of trenches that stretched from the English Channel to Switzerland during the First World War, also formed a scar on the imaginative landscape of our century. Back to the Front chronicles

Overview

A rich and sobering exploration of war -- and of the meaning of history -- that will engage general readers and military buffs alike. The Western Front, the sinuous, deadly line of trenches that stretched from the English Channel to Switzerland during the First World War, also formed a scar on the imaginative landscape of our century. Back to the Front chronicles author, Stephen O'Shea's, 500-kilometre walk down what was once no man's land. In the process of making this singular trek through the old battlefields, O'Shea ruminates on the many meanings of the Front and on the nature of his own generation's - the Baby Boomer's - indifference to the past.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ghosts of the Western Front's needless dead remain for O'Shea, a Canadian jounalist working in Paris: "The extent of the carnage, let alone its horror, is nauseating to contemplate." In the summer of 1986, O'Shea walked 450 miles of trenches, from the ocean dunes of Belgium southward to the border of France and Switzerland. The reader follows O'Shea through the fields, forests and no-man's land as he searches for the snaking trenches, many of which have been lost to farmland or to a cliff's drop; sometimes the trenches vanish all together. As he travels the now deserted lands dotted with cemeteries and monuments or through villages, he slides into a still pertinent and horrifying chronicle of incompetent generals, poor battle planning or execution and the thousands of men killed on battlefields with names like Somme, Verdun and Argonne. O'Shea, a journalist who is Variety's film critic for French cinema, displays a poet's gift of description and a sorrowful, contemplative pacifism in expressing the horror and futility of the Great War. Author tour. (June)
Library Journal
Paris-based journalist O'Shea walked the length of the Western Front of World War I during the summers from 1986 to 1995. The journey was a personal one: both his grandfathers had fought on the front lines. O'Shea began his journey in Nieuport, Belgium, and followed the remains of the trenches some 450 miles to the border of France and Switzerland. Because the tactics of war usually consisted of massed infantry assaults against machine guns and artillery, O'Shea doesn't provide much historical context. What does emerge from his narrative is a shocking description of what happened on the battlefields. Generals often began offensives that lost some 100,000 men in one monthonly to begin the same process the following month. Despite the talk of glory, the war came down to crushing personal losses. The author briskly moves the narrative along, though photographs comparing the battlefields la William Frassanito (Early Photography at Gettysburg, Thomas, 1995) would have been helpful. An engaging and thought-provoking work; recommended for history buffs.Mark E. Ellis, Albany State Univ., Ga.
Kirkus Reviews
A Canadian journalist who has walked the weary length of WW I's western front reports movingly on his experiences and more.

A Paris-based correspondent for Elle, Interview, and other periodicals, O'Shea began hiking the centerpiece combat zone of the so-called Great War almost by chance during the mid-1980s. The serpentine path (to which he returned time and again) begins around Nieuport on the Belgian coast, winds through the French countryside, and ends abruptly at the frontier of neutral Switzerland. Between the two extremes, the blood-soaked track of the trenches, from which Allied and German troops rose to slaughter one another by the millions during the 52-month conflict, twists through scores of storied venues. Cases in point range from Flanders (Ypres, Passchendaele) through Artois (Armentières, Arras, Vimy Ridge), Picardy, Champagne (Chemin des Dames, Reims), and Alsace-Lorraine (St. Mihiel, Verdun, the Argonne Forest). In his commentary as a tour guide, the author is by turns informative and censorious. Interspersing his point-to-point travelogue of abandoned redoubts, burial grounds, disputed barricades, monuments, museums, and ossuaries with short takes on the campaigns that earned hinterland villages a place in military history, he offers unsparing critiques of commanders on both sides of the fray (notably, Falkenhayn, Foch, Haig, Joffre, Nivelle, Pershing, and Pétain). O'Shea also recalls his two Irish grandfathers, who survived the senseless carnage (as soldiers of the British Crown), albeit at considerable cost in mental and physical pain. Antiwar by conviction at the start of his explorations, he's something very like a militant pacifist at the end of a decade-long journey.

A tellingly detailed account of a trek through yesteryear's killing fields, which unites past with present in affectingly evocative ways and with no small measure of art.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781553656647
Publisher:
Douglas and McIntyre (2013) Ltd.
Publication date:
07/28/2012
Pages:
218
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.50(d)

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