NOTE: I read this novel in the original French.
To the Slaughterhouse is set in rural Southern France during World War I. Joseph, a young newlywed, leaves his family (his wife, sister, and father) to join the army at the onset of the war. The book then splits into two narrative lines, both spread over a period of several years, one telling the story of Joseph and his fellow soldiers on the battlefield, and one telling the story of his family back in the village. This dual narrative works very well to illustrate the horror of war on a large scale, affecting both those doing the actual fighting, and those who have been left behind. Both groups must struggle to survive in their own ways, and Giono’s message is clear: the pain and suffering of war spares no one.
This book is so powerful, and both narratives work well. The scenes of battle are vivid and truly horrifying, which makes sense, as they are based on the author’s own experiences as a member of the French army during WWI. The sections set in the village were my favorites, though, as they are female-centric and give a really unique and interesting perspective on the impact of war. These women aren’t just sitting around moping for their provider to come home; they’re taking their futures into their own hands. Julia, Joseph’s wife, is tough and strong–she takes on the work typically done by males, runs the household, and owns her sexuality. She’s an awesome character, and really helps shape the story into something completely new and compelling. This a beautiful and engaging book, and I highly recommend it.