This book’s origins are quite remarkable. It began when a French artist named Barroux noticed some garbage being thrown out on a Paris street and stopped because he saw some old magazines and had been looking for some to cut up for a project. Among the debris he also found a medal and an old diary. It turned out to be over 100 years old and had belonged to a French man who had been conscripted into World War 1. The name was too faded to read anymore, but the words were quite amazing and they inspired the artist to create the images which would illustrate the unknown soldier’s words.
The result was a graphic novel unlike most novels or true-life accounts of war. Because the diarist was writing for himself the story is told in a very matter-of-fact and unedited manner. The reader views the story just as it unfolds for the teller, and it is not a grand drama, but rather, the personal view of an infantry soldier recounting what he sees, hears and feels as he moves through the early days of the war.
It begins when France declares war and continues until early September in 1914. Then, it abruptly stops. By that time, the reader is captivated and wants to know what happens next, but it must remain a mystery because that is all there is to the diary. Instead, he includes the lyrics of some of the songs of the day and we are left to speculate what became of the person we have gotten to know.
In his diary, he writes about the initial enthusiasm of his fellow servicemen, of long treks and journeys, his aching feet, some of the people he befriends, life in the trenches and also in the hospital where he is taken at one point. He writes of the countryside, his inner thoughts and seeing courage in battle.
Barroux illustrates every page of the diary using acrylic paint and a thick black grease pencil that he obtained from his butcher. He had to spray the pages to keep the grease lines from smudging and the result is a yellowish patina which suits the 100 year old story well. The drawings are semi-realistic with a slight cartoonish element which preserves a bit of the mystery of the diary-writer’s identity. He is “any-man” fighting for his country and wondering what will happen next. Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse and many other fine books, wrote the introduction for Line of Fire and stated: “We need the voice of a witness to tell the unadulterated truth. We have it in this remarkable book.” I couldn’t agree more and recommend this unique book to anyone aged 12 and older.
Angela Meady is Head of Children’s & Youth Services for the Thunder Bay Public Library.