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Lobby 2. Welcome The Reading Room Reading Challenges, 2010 topic #6
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Subject: "40. Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb" Previous topic | Next topic
Mesg #759 "40. Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb"
Author alissaameth     Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Dec 31st 2006
1631 posts
Date Fri Jun-04-10 03:23 PM
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WWI Fiction, 306 pages.

I absolutely loved this book--it's a new favorite that I'll definitely re-read in the future. First of all, I have to say that I fell in love with the actual book (the physical object) before I read it. Its shape is more square than typical paperbacks, the paper is thicker and the cover is good. (I realize that's a vague and subjective thing to say. I just liked the cover!) Anyways, this edition is a reprint by The University of Georgia Press, with an afterword by Stephen E. Tabachnick. All that to say that I might have loved this book no matter what it said inside.

Luckily, I loved what was inside, too. I'm not giving away anything when I say this is "the story of three men executed to save a general's dignity." That's quoted from the first sentence on the back of the book. It's based on real events in the French army during WWI. In an author's note at the end, Cobb points to several reports (mostly in French) that detail actual occurrences that I can't believe actually happened.

Part of the power of this story is that you know what's going to happen (though you're not sure exactly how) from the get-go. Especially if you read the blurb on the back. You know that three men are going to be killed for absolutely no reason at all, and you have to watch it happen. It's like investing yourself in a relationship that you know is going to end very soon. The thing is, I liked getting to know these guys. I didn't feel like it was a waste of time. And of course, I was curious to learn how/why they would be executed. There are a few twists along the way, so it isn't entirely straight-forward. At the beginning of the novel, we have no idea who the three men will be. As the novel progresses, the possibilities narrow and the reader has to watch the traps around them tighten as their escapes are closed shut. It's painful.

Another part of its power is its simplicity. The afterword said that the novel fell out of popularity fast, partially because it was considered too simplistic. Yet I really feel as if it accomplished more by understating what was obviously senseless killing. Not only the executions, but also all the numerous casualties along the way. The violence is described as if it were commonplace because it is commonplace--in war. You can tell me "his head exploded" and I'll get the picture and find it horrifying. You don't have to spend a page describing metaphors of what it looked like to make sure I understand how terrible it is. (Though that's a valid technique, too!) So, the simplicity of the story, in my opinion, lends it credibility and also anchors it in reality. There aren't a million metaphors (though there are plenty of good ones in there), but there are realistic-sounding descriptions that simply bring the violence into focus without commenting on it. I think it would be over-the-top if it were more dramatic.

While reading some parts, I wished that I had a better understanding of military strategy and terminology. It didn't push me out of the story, but sometimes I wasn't sure exactly what had just happened. All I knew was that something had gone wrong and now a bunch more men were dead. Similarly, I got confused about rankings. E.g. how high up is the Captain compared to X? These things didn't bother me much. I kept reading.

One thing I enjoyed was the narrative bird's eye view that managed to show the chain of events unfolding in different locations (among different ranks) without seeming too jumpy, abrupt or disorienting. There was a time for being inside a specific man's head, and there was a time for being a fly on the wall listening to two officers discussing serious things. Cobb shifts between the two with clear sentences that let the reader know where he's going.

My favorite character was Didier, an excellent scout who seems to have a very grounded personality. He usually does what he's told to do, but he isn't a mindless warrior-machine and he doesn't spout self-assuring propaganda about the glory of war. On the other hand, he doesn't sit around and mope about violence. He's doing what he has to in order to survive in a terrible atmosphere.

Excellent book! I'm so glad I picked it up. Because I was so impressed with it, I read the afterword, which had some helpful information in it (e.g., a chart of the units in this particular corps). Mostly, the afterword was a defense of the novel's literary credit--which I wholeheartedly agree with. I'm looking forward to re-reading it with more writerly eyes.

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Alissa's 2010 Book List [View all] , alissaameth, Wed Dec-16-09 05:20 PM
  1. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck, alissaameth, Jan 03rd 2010, #1
2. King Lear by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Jan 12th 2010, #2
RE: 2. King Lear by William Shakespeare, RavenCorbie, Jan 21st 2010, #5
      RE: 2. King Lear by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Jan 23rd 2010, #8
3. Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat, alissaameth, Jan 18th 2010, #3
RE: 3. Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat, Stavechurch, Jan 26th 2010, #10
      RE: 3. Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat, alissaameth, Jan 30th 2010, #13
4. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Jan 20th 2010, #4
RE: 4. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, blzrgurl71, Jan 21st 2010, #6
      RE: 4. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Jan 23rd 2010, #7
5. Households and Holiness by Carol Meyers, alissaameth, Jan 24th 2010, #9
6. Awakening Genius in the Classroom by Thomas Armstron..., alissaameth, Jan 29th 2010, #11
7. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Jan 30th 2010, #12
8. With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, alissaameth, Jan 31st 2010, #14
9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, alissaameth, Feb 05th 2010, #15
RE: 9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, RavenCorbie, Feb 06th 2010, #16
      RE: 9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, alissaameth, Feb 06th 2010, #17
           RE: 9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, RavenCorbie, Feb 07th 2010, #18
10. Music as a Way of Knowing by Nick Page, alissaameth, Feb 08th 2010, #19
11. Confessions of a Thug by Captain Meadows Taylor, alissaameth, Feb 10th 2010, #20
12. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Feb 10th 2010, #21
13. And Sarah Laughed by John H. Otwell, alissaameth, Feb 12th 2010, #22
14. The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano, alissaameth, Feb 12th 2010, #23
15. The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Feb 18th 2010, #24
16. Drama as a Way of Knowing by Paul G. Heller, alissaameth, Feb 26th 2010, #25
17. She by H. Rider Haggard, alissaameth, Feb 26th 2010, #26
RE: 17. She by H. Rider Haggard, tianne, Mar 24th 2010, #35
      RE: 17. She by H. Rider Haggard, alissaameth, Mar 24th 2010, #36
18. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Mar 01st 2010, #27
RE: 18. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare, tianne, Mar 23rd 2010, #34
19. Dance as a Way of Knowing by Jennifer Donohue Zakka..., alissaameth, Mar 10th 2010, #28
20. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, alissaameth, Mar 16th 2010, #29
RE: 20. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, RavenCorbie, Mar 16th 2010, #30
21. All's Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Mar 17th 2010, #31
22. Guanya Pau by Joseph J. Walters, alissaameth, Mar 19th 2010, #32
23. Releasing the Imagination by Maxine Greene, alissaameth, Mar 20th 2010, #33
24. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, alissaameth, Mar 31st 2010, #37
25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens, alissaameth, Mar 31st 2010, #38
RE: 25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens, tianne, Apr 16th 2010, #40
      RE: 25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens, alissaameth, Apr 18th 2010, #44
26. Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah by Eli..., alissaameth, Apr 07th 2010, #39
27. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf, alissaameth, Apr 18th 2010, #41
28. Pericles by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Apr 18th 2010, #42
29. Visual Arts as a Way of Knowing by Karolynne Gee, alissaameth, Apr 18th 2010, #43
30. The Missionary: An Indian Tale by Lady Morgan, alissaameth, Apr 20th 2010, #45
31. The Book of Leviticus by Gordon J. Wenham, alissaameth, Apr 21st 2010, #46
32. Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, alissaameth, Apr 27th 2010, #47
33. Walk Leviticus! by Jeffrey Enoch Feinberg, Ph.D., alissaameth, Apr 27th 2010, #48
34. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fa..., alissaameth, Apr 27th 2010, #49
35. The Real Me: Being the Girl God Sees by Natalie Gra..., alissaameth, May 13th 2010, #50
36. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, alissaameth, May 21st 2010, #51
37. Arrow Book of Poetry by Ann McGovern, alissaameth, May 21st 2010, #52
38. Joshua by Joseph F. Girzone, alissaameth, May 21st 2010, #53
39. How to Search the Scriptures by Dr. Fuchsia Pickett, alissaameth, May 26th 2010, #54
40. Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb, alissaameth, Jun 04th 2010 #55
41. Skate by Michael Harmon, alissaameth, Jun 10th 2010, #56
42. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, alissaameth, Jun 10th 2010, #57
43. Let Me Out! I'm a Prisoner in a Stained-Glass Jail ..., alissaameth, Jun 14th 2010, #58
44. Under Pressure by Frank Herbert, alissaameth, Jun 18th 2010, #59
45. The Lonely Now by Nicky Cruz, alissaameth, Jun 23rd 2010, #60
46. A Child is Born by Lennart Nilsson, alissaameth, Jul 01st 2010, #61
47. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, alissaameth, Jul 05th 2010, #62
48. The Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck, alissaameth, Jul 05th 2010, #63
49. A Hilltop in Tuscany by Stephanie Grace Whitson, alissaameth, Jul 12th 2010, #64
50. Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath b..., alissaameth, Jul 21st 2010, #65
51. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, alissaameth, Jul 21st 2010, #66
XX. 3 Charlie Brown comics by Charles M. Schulz, alissaameth, Jul 21st 2010, #67
XX. The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watters..., alissaameth, Jul 31st 2010, #68
52. No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, alissaameth, Aug 11th 2010, #69
53. Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia by Anthony..., alissaameth, Sep 02nd 2010, #70
54. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, alissaameth, Sep 02nd 2010, #71
55. The White Plague by Frank Herbert, alissaameth, Sep 17th 2010, #72
56. The Oresteia of Aeschylus trans. by Robert Lowell, alissaameth, Oct 02nd 2010, #73
RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List, Erin_M_H, Nov 19th 2010, #74
RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List, alissaameth, Nov 19th 2010, #76
      RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List, bpratt, Dec 05th 2010, #77
           RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List, alissaameth, Dec 07th 2010, #78
57. To Teach: The Journey, in Comics by Ayers & Alexand..., alissaameth, Nov 19th 2010, #75
58. The Rainmaker by John Grisham, alissaameth, Dec 09th 2010, #79
59. Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson, alissaameth, Jan 01st 2011, #80
60. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, alissaameth, Jan 01st 2011, #81

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