The Burning of the World-A Memoir of 1914 by Bela Zombory- Moldovan (1885 to 1967, Hungary), translated and very well introduced by his grandson, is a poetic memoir of a painter who was drafted from his care free life at 29 to fight the Russians in World War One. His memoir went unpublished for many years until his grandson translated it into English. It ends in 1915, with the author living on for five more decades. If might be a fragment of a larger work we just don't know.
The book is being marketed as an "undiscovered" classic. Most of the times phrases like that are hyperbolic but in this case I think it is very accurate. There is something about the old Austro-Hungarian Empire that draws me to it. Maybe it represents to me a
wished for time of high respect for culture, tolerance and the reading life. I know many great writers loved the Empire.
Béla Zombory-Moldován lets us see the very mixed bag that made up the officer's corp. One colonel refused to allow his men to dig fox holes because he thought it showed cowardice to hide from the enemy in a hole. In one scene with layers of irony and pathos the author straps on his dress sword and says "Now the Russians will really be scared". He stood up to a full barrage of heavy Russian cannon and nothing could be found of his body. Béla Zombory-Moldován is severly wounded and gets a three month leave. We are with him as he tours his beloved Budapest. He often talks of his painting and we see a very peaceful kind man forced to be a killer by fools. The scenes where he visits his parents are very moving.
I am very glad I read this book. It is a valuable edition to WW I memoir literature.
From the webpage of The New York Review of Books, the publisher.
- Recently discovered among private papers and published here for the first time in any language, this extraordinary reminiscence by a young artist, drafted into the bloody combat of the First World War, is a deeply moving addition to the literature of the terrible conflict that defined the shape of the twentieth century.
I was provided a review copy of this book.