A two-day war: review of The Burning of the World

April 3, 2015 at 2:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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burningThe Burning of the World is a recently-published memoir of World War I, written by a Hungarian who served in its first few weeks (although he was at the front for only two days). I picked up the book from our library in part because my father’s family is from Hungary, and in fact his father also fought in WWI for the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. I knew my grandfather — he lived until I was 17 — so this book feels very alive to me.

Let the spoilers begin: This is a sadly-great war tale, I think, because it is such a tragic mess. The soldier’s story (his name is Bela Zombory-Moldovan) would be comic if not for the thousands of people who were killed around him in September 1914. His time in combat consisted of:

Day 1:

His unit is moved to the front lines. They dig foxholes. They shoot at guys in front of them who turn out to be other Hungarians. They are then bombarded by Russians. Having too few artillery pieces, they try to shoot back with their rifles; but the sandy soil they are in jams their guns. The unit, having suffered severe losses in the bombardment, retreats. Bela spends the night in another hole somewhat behind the lines.

Day 2:

While the devastated unit tries to regroup into new squads, another bombardment kills four more young officers, and then shortly thereafter yet another bomb injures Bela. He heads to a field hospital.

That’s it — that’s his combat action. He is evacuated by train and then spends 6 months recovering from his wounds. He did not serve in combat again.

So we have here a fine book which demonstrates the misery of war, like so many others written over the years. People never seem to pay attention to them, but I can’t help mentioning them.

It also has an amusing description of a Hungarian dinner in which the proud host tries to stuff Bela to the point of illness, something which again is very alive for me, having visited Hungary twice. Also there’s a few interesting veiled comments about lonely women left behind in Budapest who apparently were willing to, ah, set aside usual social norms about fidelity during the war — but this was just in OCTOBER 1914 for crying out loud!! How long have the guys been gone for — four weeks?!?  Maybe this little observation would do more to put men off warmongering than Bela’s description of his combat and wounds.

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