There are two large bookstores in Paris where I will go several times a year and buy books in English: Brentano's, the American Bookstore in Paris and WHSmith in Paris, the English Bookshop. When I last went to Brentano's, I had my attention attracted to the title of a book: Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, an Englishman. I had never heard of it, although it was labelled as a bestseller. I flipped through a few pages: the book was about the First World War, and beautifully written. I bought it.

The book tells the story of a young Englishman who fights in France during the WWI, interspersed with scenes of the life of his granddaughter, Elizabeth, a young woman living in the 1970s, who travels to France to discover more about the life and dead of her grandfather.

As Elizabeth drives across empty fields, she notices a great arch in a field. She pulls over and has a closer look at it.

As she came up to the arch, Elizabeth saw with a start that it was written on. She went closer. She peered at the stone. There were names on it. Every grain of the surface had been carved with British names; their chiseled capitals rose from the level of her ankles to the height of the great arch itself; on every surface of every column as as far as her eye could see there were names teeming, reeling, over surfaces of yards, of hundred of yards, over furlongs of stone.

She moved through the space beneath the arch where the man was sweeping. She found the other pillars identically marked, their faces obliterated on all sides by the names that were carved on them.
Who are those, these...? She gestured with her hand.
These? The man with the brush sounded surprised. The lost.
Men who died in this battle?
No. The lost, the ones they did not find. The others are in the cemeteries.
These are just the... unfound?

She looked at the vault above her head and then around in panic at the endless writing, as though the surface of the sky had been papered in footnotes. When she could speak again, she said:
From the whole war?

The man shook his head.
Just these fields. He gestured with his arm.

Elizabeth went and sat on the steps on the other side of the monument. Beneath her was a formal garden with some rows of white headstones, each with a tended plant or flower at its base, each cleaned and beautiful in the weak winter sunlight.
Nobody told me. She ran her fingers with their red-painted nails back through her thick dark hair. My God, nobody told me.

Between 1914 and 1918, about 9 million people were killed, in Europe essentially: 2 million German, 1,300,000 Frenchmen, 750,000 British, 650,000 Italians... Beside the terrible loss of young men in every family — France lost about 10 percent of its working population in the conflict — the war changed the political map of Europe, and the world balance of power. Several European empires were dismantled. France and the UK, although the winners, were ruined. It was the very moment in history when Europe handed over to the USA as the world economical and political leader.

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