The Living Unknown Soldier:
A Story of Grief and the Great War
Reviewed by Nicholas E. Efstathiou
By Jean-Yves Le Naour
Metropolitan Books, New York, 2004
World War I, initially marked by troops employing 19th-century
tactics encountering 20th-century weaponry, saw heavy casualties
on all sides. France, the Allied power that bore the brunt of
German offensives in the West, suffered a particularly high
casualty rate, including some 400,000 soldiers listed as missing.
Even after a near century of recovering the dead, some 130,000
French soldiers re-main missing in action from WWI.
Those missing men left behind families and friends who were
unable to achieve closure. In The Living Unknown Soldier,
Le Naour details the quest to discover the identity of an amnesiac
veteran whose anonymity gripped the French nation in 1918. The
search stirred the national conscience and rekindled painful
memories among the relatives of other missing men, who saw in the
amnesiac soldier their own loved ones.
Le Naour, a professor of history and political science at the
University of Aix-en-Provence, brings considerable writing and
research skills to his story. Penny Allen's English translation
reads easily and concisely brings to light one of war's horrors:
to die alone and unknown, leaving behind a family that never knows
the fate of its loved one.