With its florid descriptive passages and lengthy expositions, this novel of the eastern front of World War I may be tiresome to many readers of 2018. But no one should fault its plot and deftly drawn characters. Grischa is a Russian POW who absconds from a timber-felling camp, falls in with a small gang of Russian-speaking outlaws led by a woman who falls for him, is apprehended while fleeing further eastward and imprisoned again, then sentenced to death as the deserter whose identity he has assumed and whom the Germans presume is a spy. He proves who he really is to the humane German division brass, but is ordered to be executed by a general more highly placed than the old-school Prussian division commander. Then ensues a battle between old and new attitudes in the German army and with the elements as winter deepens. While eerily foreshadowing (from the vantage of one decade after the armistice) the psychology of the mechanical, capitalistic militarization of Nazi Germany, Zweig's most famous novel is poignantly, unsentimentally antiwar. Its reputation deserves revival both because of and despite its presently unfashionable literary manners.
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