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Paul and Marie Pireaud, a young peasant couple from southwest France, were newlyweds when World War I erupted. With Paul in the army from 1914 through 1919, they were forced to conduct their marriage mostly by correspondence. Drawing upon the hundreds of letters they wrote, Martha Hanna tells their moving story and reveals a powerful and personal perspective on war.
Civilians and combatants alike maintained bonds of emotional commitment and suffered the inevitable miseries of extended absence. While under direct fire at Verdun, Paul wrote with equal intensity and poetic clarity of the brutality of battle and the dietary needs (as he understood them) of his pregnant wife. Marie, in turn, described the difficulties of working the family farm and caring for a sick infant, lamented the deaths of local men, and longed for the safe return of her husband. Through intimate avowals and careful observations, their letters reveal how war transformed their lives, reinforced their love, and permanently altered the character of rural France.
Overwhelmed by one of the most tumultuous upheavals of the modern age, Paul and Marie found solace in family and strength in passion. Theirs is a human story of loneliness and longing, fear in the face of death, and the consolations of love. Your Death Would Be Mine is a poignant tale of ordinary people coping with the trauma of war.
[Paul and Marie Pireaud's] letters are a remarkable source for observing World War I from the vantage point of the French peasantry, for analyzing the impact of the conflict on rural France, and for resurrecting the human face of war. Drawing on hundreds of letters, Hanna offers a fascinating look at one peasant couple separated and in love, compelled to carry on their marriage by correspondence. (starred review)
— George Cohen
A vivid picture of the Great War seen from below which illustrates the view, popular now for a generation or so, that it is not events but people who make history...Most of all, Hanna is struck by the way Marie and Paul reflect the modernizing impact of the war on the rural psyche...The practice of writing letters stimulated self-reflection and self-awareness and left both husband and wife better able to communicate with each other. The postwar transformation of rural France was made possible by this enforced wartime correspondence course in self-discovery.
— David Coward
1. How Sad the Countryside Is
2. Here It Is Extermination on the Ground
3. Oh, How I Suffered, My Poor Paul
4. No One Is Happy in War
5. We Are Martyrs of the Century