An NYRB Classics Original
Winner of the 2013 Scott Moncrief Prize for Translation from the French
Fear is a classic of war literature, a book to place on the shelf with Storm of Steel, A Farewell to Arms, and Going After Cacciato. Jean Dartemont, the hero of Gabriel Chevallier’s autobiographical novel, enters what was not yet known as World War I in 1915, when it was just beginning to be clear that a war that all the combatants were initially confident would move swiftly to a conclusion was instead frozen murderously in place. After enduring the horrors of the trenches and the deadly leagues of no-man’s-land stretching beyond them, Jean is wounded and hospitalized. Away from the front, he confronts the relentless blindness of the authorities and much of the general public to the hideous realities of modern, mechanized combat. Jean decides he must resist. How? By telling the simple truth. Urged to encourage new recruits with tales of derring-do service, Jean does not mince words. What did he do on the battlefield? He responds like a man: “I was afraid.”
Acclaimed as “the most beautiful book ever written on the tragic events that blood-stained Europe” for five years, prosecuted on first publication as an act of sedition, Fear appears for the first time in the United States in Malcolm Imrie’s poetic and prizewinning translation on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the conflict with which the twentieth century came into its own. Chevallier’s masterpiece remains, in the words of John Berger, “a book of the utmost urgency and relevance.”
Eighty years after it was first published in its original French, Gabriel Chevallier’s autobiographical novel about serving in the bombed-out trenches of World War I still chills the blood….Fear is a novel whose most indelible passages describe the sensory degradation of war on the human body. These baroque descriptions are generously translated into English by Malcolm Imrie without a hint of stiltedness…. It is the kind of powerful prose that helps to make Chevallier’s long-neglected novel one of the most effective indictments of war ever written.
—Tobias Grey, The Wall Street Journal
If Fear has an English equivalent it is The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning or, in German, Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger, each of which give a view of the war from the perspective of lowly infantrymen, and both of whom, like Chevallier, remain stoutly immune to the old lie that dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
—The Sunday Telegraph
Gabriel Chevallier, best known for his magnificent novel Clochemerle, has used his experiences during World War I to produce a work of great intensity, comparable to such great literary masterpieces of the period as Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire.
—The Daily Mail
At times, reading Fear feels like being led through the damnation panel of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, the front line ‘”blazing like some infernal factory where monstrous crucibles melted human flesh into a bloody lava.”…Chevallier’s turn of phrase, brilliantly rendered in Malcolm Imrie’s translation, makes this distant war feel horrifying and close…. Fear remains a bravura work, fearless from start to finish, pitiless in its targets, passionate in its empathy.
—Neil Fitzgerald, The Times Literary Supplement
All the horrors of war are here, but atrocity alone would not be enough to explain the grandeur of this text. It is the healthy defiance and controlled anger which earned the book its stripes.
The most beautiful book ever written on the tragic events that blood-stained Europe for nearly five years.