An unusually personal view of World War I’s early days, conveyed by new illustrations grafted to a French soldier’s chance-found diary.
Dated Aug. 3 to Sept. 5, 1914, the anonymous diary tersely records mustering, train rides, weary marches, efforts to scrounge up provisions and billeting, much digging of trenches, and advances and retreats under enemy artillery fire. Aside from occasional thoughts of family left behind, the writer’s observations are detached in tone—even gruesome sights of a human leg caught in a tree and heavily wounded patients in a hospital ward are only noted in passing. Along with portraying how he rescued the account from a pile of curbside rubbish, Barroux illustrates the diary with large panels of heavy-lined drawings made with butcher’s pencil and a pale yellow varnish wash. Most depict somber figures in uniform, drawn with geometrical noses that give them the look of puppets or mannequins, trudging through sheets of rain or sketched rural settings. The diary’s abrupt end leaves the writer wounded but complaining of boredom as he recuperates; the artist closes with sample pages from a handwritten album of songs found with the document. In a passionate introductory note, Michael Morpurgo invites readers to “weep” over these glimpses of war.
American children, at least, may not shed many tears, but they should come away feeling closer to understanding what that century-old conflict must have been like to those who fought in it. (Graphic memoir. 11-14)