cover image Back to the Front

Back to the Front

Stephen O'Shea. Walker & Company, $23 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-1329-2

Ghosts of the Western Front's needless dead remain for O'Shea, a Canadian jounalist working in Paris: ""The extent of the carnage, let alone its horror, is nauseating to contemplate."" In the summer of 1986, O'Shea walked 450 miles of trenches, from the ocean dunes of Belgium southward to the border of France and Switzerland. The reader follows O'Shea through the fields, forests and no-man's land as he searches for the snaking trenches, many of which have been lost to farmland or to a cliff's drop; sometimes the trenches vanish all together. As he travels the now deserted lands dotted with cemeteries and monuments or through villages, he slides into a still pertinent and horrifying chronicle of incompetent generals, poor battle planning or execution and the thousands of men killed on battlefields with names like Somme, Verdun and Argonne. O'Shea, a journalist who is Variety's film critic for French cinema, displays a poet's gift of description and a sorrowful, contemplative pacifism in expressing the horror and futility of the Great War. Author tour. (June)