World War I in 11 books and films

November 11 obliges, here is a small anthology of novels and films so as not to forget the horrors of the 14-18 War.

The publisher’s choice is not exhaustive.


Ken Follett: “The Fall of the Giants”

The first and best volume of his 20th century trilogy, the Welsh novelist plunges us into the Great War, from its beginnings in aristocratic salons to its consequences on European societies through the trenches. A fresco where several Welsh, English, German, Russian and American families meet.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline: “War”

Unpublished text that has slept among the manuscripts of the great controversial writer found in 2020, “Guerra” is a story that is half autobiographical and half fictional written twenty years after the facts. We follow Céline, wounded in Flanders in the autumn of 1914, recovering in a small town in the north of France. A short text, purely Celinian, which allows us to better understand the trauma that was for him “the international slaughterhouse of madness”.

Read also: The incredible story behind the manuscripts found by Celine

Blaise Cendrars: “The severed hand”

Published in the aftermath of World War II, this first-person text traces the daily experience of the Great War by Blaise Cendrars, the industrial century backpacker who joined the Foreign Legion in 1914 before losing his arm in the Battle of the Somme in 1915. A profoundly human story, where you can feel both the horror and the fragile and intense friendship that has been created between the men on the front. “No, it wasn’t good weather, but good weather for having lived”.

Ernest Hemingway: “A Farewell to Arms”

Written in 1929, Hemingway draws on his own experience to tell the love story between an American paramedic enlisted in the Italian army and an English nurse. The contrast between war and love finds its climax when he describes the retreat of the Italian army, a passage considered one of the most powerful evocations of war in American literature.

Henri Barbusse: “Fire”

Prix ​​Goncourt 1916, this story is one of the first to represent the reality of war. Barbusse, a politician and journalist from L’Humanité, enlisted as a volunteer in 1914 at the age of 41, kept a war diary in which he noted all of his inner experiences. A notebook that will serve as the basis for the novel he will write during his convalescence. The book first appeared in serial form and was an instant success as the fighting continued to rage.

Pierre Lemaître: “Goodbye, up there”

“Those who thought this war would be over soon were all dead a long time ago. From the war, in fact.”. Two Poilus quickly surrender at the end of the war that the country and society will not make room for. After the horror of the trenches, he gets away with a France that glorifies his dead. They then decide to organize a scam that is gaining momentum. Prix ​​Goncourt 2013 and film adaptation at 5 César.

Read also: Why is Pierre Lemaître so suitable?


“1917” by Sam Mendes

Inspired by the stories told by his grandfather, the English director proposes a fresco in a single sequence (at least this is the illusion it gives) that allows you to follow the action in real time: the protagonists send a message through enemy lines. A tour de force acclaimed by three Oscar nominations 2019.

“In the West, Nothing New” by Edward Berger

New adaptation of the novel by Erich Mariah Remarque, this German film just released on Netflix shows the Great War from the German prism – where the feeling of tiredness in the face of absurdity and horror is in all respects similar to that of the French or of the British. It is the first time that a German director has adapted the novel published in 1929. The film was proposed to represent Germany at the Oscars.

“Paths of Glory” by Stanley Kubrick

One of his best films, Stanley Kubrick’s Ranting, released in 1957, was banned in France for a long time. The reason ? He denounces the cynicism of French officers who send soldiers to the butcher’s shop for their own military glory. To deflect the blame for the failure of the assault, the regiment is taken to court. Kubrick denounces the reality of war: nearly 600 soldiers were shot “for example” by their own army. The film caused a scandal, particularly in France (and Belgium) where it didn’t screen until 1975.

“Merry Christmas” by Christian Carion

European co-production released in 2005, the film returns to a particular event of the Great War. This Christmas Eve of 1914 when the soldiers of the two fronts, tired of all this nonsense they did not ask, decide to make a truce, leave the trenches and go to meet, shaking hands, exchanging cigarettes and wine for a Christmas like no other .

“Apocalypse: World War I” by Daniel Costelle and Isabelle Clarke

Documentary series consisting of five episodes, “Apocalypse” is perhaps the best way to immerse yourself in the reality of the Great War: contextualization, facts, experiences of ordinary people, this series narrated by Mathieu Kassovitz is based on many colorful archive images. It achieved well-deserved success when it aired on RTBF in 2014.

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