Private Jünger joined up in August 1914, the day war was declared. He arrived by train in Champagne to hear ‘the slow grinding pulse of the front’. He fought through almost the whole of the war, but was permanently invalided back to Germany in 1918, having experienced active service in the Somme, Ypres, Arras and the German Spring offensive. Just two years after the war was ended – long before the memoirs of Englishmen like Siegfried Sassoon or Robert Graves – Jünger published his extraordinary, raw account: Storm of Steel.
He comments with a desensitised, almost laconic voice on the horrors he encountered; he maintains an impersonal respect for the enemy, remarking quietly on their courage. Men die from rifle fire, shell attacks, gas corrupting their lungs; it is casual slaughter and before long, Jünger is more concerned over having a nap than the fact that his servant’s blood stains the walls of his dugout. His detachment conveys the horror of war with chilling immediacy, from rats eating corpses in cellars to the ‘emotional cold’ that causes teeth to chatter as the soldier crawls into no-man’s-land, ‘like having a feeble electric current applied to you’. Ground down by the tedium of trench warfare, Jünger is reminded of home or nature by the merest details of his surroundings. In the same way, his deliberately impassive prose occasionally blooms into the poetic. Going into action in the Somme, Jünger writes, ‘We marched as on the gleaming paths of a midnight cemetery.’
Translator Michael Hoffman won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Award for his ability to transmit both Jünger’s carefully constructed ‘artless’ simplicity, and moments of lyrical intensity. While we chose to illustrate Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front with contemporary photographs from the war, for this memoir we took a different approach and commissioned the artist Neil Gower to create a series of illustrations in muted sepia tones. It is introduced by historian Richard Vinen, who believes that, however realistic Jünger’s descriptions of war, it is wrong to see him as ‘primarily a historical witness’, for the intensity of his writing has given us a book ‘that will continue to be read as a work of pure literature’.
Review by nickmuir on 18th May 2012
"This is an excellent production by Folio of a great German work on World War One. The modernist cover is very effective, as are the illustrations within the book. This is a gruelling read at times, an..." [read more]
Review by patrickodaniel on 8th May 2012
"This is a perfect example of how a foreign-language work should be given the FS treatment. Although originally written in German, a difficult language to translate into English (just see the original..." [read more]