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Jean Giono: War, nourishment and dismemberment


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

Jean Giono: Led to the slaughterhouse

Jean Giono: Rats and worms were the only living things

Jean Giono: War! Who’s the madman in charge of all this? Who’s the madman who gives the orders?


Jean Giono
From To the Slaughterhouse (Le grand troupeau) (1931)
Translated by Norman Glass


The night thickened. The kitchen wagon, disembowelled by the first shells, was now splayed out in flames on the road. The mud hissed with carbon. Shot to pieces, a man hung over the wagon, his head resting on the bottom. The horse was down on its knees, moaning and shaking its head. Soldiers lay stretched out around a wine barrel, motionless, except for one who, face in the soil, clenched his hands to secure himself on the ground, find support, get up again and set off. A gaping wound in the neck weighed down his head.

“I’m going to see my donkeys,” the man said.

“Stay here!” Joseph shouted. “Stay here!”

But the man moved. Joseph saw him struggle along, looking like a toad, arms and knees bent. His flat face was stretched out, mouth open, and his big eyes reflected the fire of the kitchen wagon and the night.

“Stay there!”

The man jumped forward and at the same moment there was a flash of fire. He fell back in a heap on the road, raised his back, swung from left to right, then collapsed.

“Hey you! What’s your name now? Hey!” Joseph shouted. He edged toward him in the darkness. He stumbled first against a cold corpse lying on bread crumbs and kitchen implements. There was raw flesh in the mud.

“Hey!” Joseph called out quietly. “Hey, you! What’s your name?” He touched a body. It was the man’s. He neither moved nor breathed, he might have been a lump of earth. Joseph listened to the sound of blood gushing out of him.


Chauvin drew so near to him that their helmets touched. “Your haversack,” he said. “Your haversack. You’ve got something? Something we can eat?”

“Eat!” Oliver exclaimed in amazement. He looked abruptly at the hole where he’d been digging and smelled the rot.

“Yes,” Chauvin said, “eat.” He stayed there without moving his face away from Oliver’s. He looked at him fixedly. At the bottom of Oliver’s haversack, beneath the grenades, there was a chunk of bread covered in rust. He gave it to Chauvin who broke it in two.

“Half and half,” he said, handing a slice to Oliver. Suddenly he bent low and shrivelled up as a big shell hit the hole. Where Oliver had been digging the shovel was stuck fast now in the earth. When he took it out, it was oily with a black grease like cobbler’s wax. He didn’t dare continue digging.

Kneeling down, Oliver chewed at the bread. He sensed somebody behind him. Somebody looking at him. He turned round. A man was stretched out on the other side of the hole. His face was completely black, his brains poured out of a large wound in the corner of his head. No, he wasn’t looking at Oliver. A small, round, white piece of that brain was looking. It was stuck on to the black space of the eye that swarmed with rot and mud.

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