A soldier on the Southern Front: the classic Italian memoir of WWI
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Taking its place alongside works by Ernst Junger, Robert Graves, and Erich Maria Remarque, Emilio Lussu’s memoir is one of the most affecting accounts to come out of the First World War. A classic in Italy but virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, it reveals, in spare and detached prose, the almost farcical side of the war as seen by a Sardinian officer fighting the Austrian army on the Asiago plateau in northeastern Italy, the front so poignantly evoked by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. For Lussu, June 1916 to July 1917 was a year of continuous assaults on impregnable trenches, absurd missions concocted by commanders full of patriotic rhetoric and vanity but lacking in tactical skill, and episodes often tragic and sometimes grotesque, where the incompetence of his own side was as dangerous as the attacked waged by the enemy. A rare firsthand account of the Italian front, Lussu’s memoir succeeds in staging a fierce indictment of the futility of war in a dry, often ironic style that sets his tale wholly apart from the Western Front of Remarque, and adds an astonishingly modern voice to the literature of the Great War.
Emilio Lussu (1890-1975) served as an infantry officer in WWI and was decorated several times for valor. A fervent antifascist, he spent much of the 1920s in exile in France, fought in Spain against Franco, and returned to Italy in 1943 to join the resistance. Mark Thompson is an award-winning British historian. He is the author, most recently, of The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919.