Under Fire


After watching a unit of Moroccan soldiers pass by—black Africans who will cut off a man’s head in combat—Henri Barbusse writes:

‘No doubt they’re a different race from us .. In fact, they’re real soldiers.”

“We are not soldiers, … we’re men.”

They are men, good fellows of all kinds, rudely torn away from the joy of life. Like any other men whom you take in the mass, they are ignorant and of narrow outloook, full of a sound common sense—which some-times gets off the rails—disposed to be led and to do as they are bid, enduring uder hardships, long suffering.

They are simple men further simplified, in whom the merely primitive instincts have been accentuated by the force of circumstances—the instinct of self-preservation, the hard-gripped hope of living through, the joy of food, of drink, and of sleep. And at intervals they are cries and dark shudders of humanity that issue from the silence and the shadows of their great hearts.

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Roman à clef?

I’ve never had a problem with the form of fiction known as the “roman à clef” (French for a story that needs a key). Generally, knowing the key will make the story more relevant but not knowing the key is perfectly okay, assuming the fiction is well-written. How many readers have enjoyed Anthony Powell’s A Dance To the Music of Time [see also] without knowing the sources of Powell’s characterizations? As the years go by, those real-life personages are becoming sufficiently obscure so as to make knowing the key even less important.

I am, however, now concerned about what is being considered a roman à clef. Look at this list from Wikipedia:

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