The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914

PI_GOLBE_BURNING_SR_002Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:

The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914 is a document of one man’s attempt to repaint his broken landscape. It is remarkable how quickly his world was lost. In hindsight, we think of the First World War as a four-year affair. We forget, though, that Austria-Hungary lost half of its men within the first two weeks of the war — 400,000 men, including 100,000 who were taken prisoner by the Russians. At the war’s start, the grand Austro-Hungarian soldier, with his long ridiculous sword, was often killed or maimed within days of reaching the battlefield. The injured and insane were sent home to wander their cities like ghosts, to parade before the horrified eyes of their neighbors. And the war kept going on.

The Burning of the World covers only the first eight months of the war, but carries a lifetime of experience. When the book opens, Hungarian painter Béla Zombory-Moldován is enjoying a summer holiday with friends at resort on the Adriatic. By the second page, war has started and Zombory-Moldován must report for duty. Before he sees any action, Zombory-Moldován finds himself in the abandoned, burned-out town of Rava Ruska, musing on its ruined state. By the middle of his memoir, Zombory-Moldován has been sent to the Galician front, been severely injured, and then been sent back to Budapest to recover. The remainder of the book follows his attempt to come to terms with life as a veteran, even though the war goes on, even though it has just started. Within weeks, his Budapest – his Hungary – is already a thing of the past. Béla Zombory-Moldován inhabits the city in a state of limbo. He passes by his favorite cafés but can’t bring himself to go in. The young ladies who once admired him now stare at his bloodied head, appalled. When the book ends, Zombory-Moldován reports once again for duty. It is March 1915. World War I still has three years and eight months to go.

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