I do not much enjoy depictions of the Great War, in literature, on film, or on stage. Even though we are as distant in time from World War I as it was from the Napoleonic Wars, there is something too modern, and therefore too familiar, about its particular horrors: trench warfare, gas masks, and other weapons and tools that remain familiar to us. It is difficult to present the facts of that war without either making light of them or falling into a kind of unintentional sadism—or an intentional sadism, in some works. I do not mean that plays and films and books addressing that subject are not worthy, only that I find them difficult to digest. As a rule, the better they are, the harder they are to endure.

World War I, the Holocaust, life (which could hardly be called life) under the Soviet Union—it is good that artists are dealing with these subjects. But as much as I admire the power of All’s...


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