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War writing, War No More - the book review

Editorial Reviews

"Long before A Farewell to Arms or All Quiet on the Western Front, a trailblazing American nurse captured the bloody absurdity of World War I so perfectly she was censored for telling the truth. Read now; don't let Ellen La Motte sit in obscurity a moment longer. But be warned―these devastating stories, like a German shell, will rip your guts out."

—Brian Castner, bestselling author of The Long Walk and All the Ways We Kill and Die

"With The Backwash of War, Cynthia Wachtell not only makes available a forgotten classic anti-war book, but also provides an insightful biography and an astute introduction to the war writing of Ellen La Motte, whose approach to describing the human cost of war was genuinely innovative."

—Lynn Dumenil, Occidental College, author of The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I.

"The Backwash of War is an important book. Through her sensitive and informed editing, Wachtell paints a subtle picture of LaMotte that includes censorship, suffragism, her relationship with the lesbian avant-garde scene in Paris, political activism, and her influence on other American writers."

—Kate McLoughlin, University of Oxford, author of Authoring War: The Literary Representation of War from the Iliad to Iraq

"Cynthia Wachtel ... has rescued the book from decades of obscurity, adding an erudite and scholarly Introduction and a ... first-ever biography of La Motte, to a well-annotated text of the original volume. She also added three other published wartime essays by LaMotte, along with an extensive list of other LaMotte writings, followed by her own extensive research notes and a useful index. In other words, the Wachtell edition - a fascinating mix of history, literature and women's studies - is a very important piece of scholarship, deserving of a wide audience....My highest recommendation."

—Timothy J. Bazzett, retired from Department of Defense and author of Soldier Boy

"Wachtell has produced an important work that ... will be a welcome addition to my syllabi in the future and would serve others who are looking for ways to incorporate more critical, gendered, and artistic voices into their histories of the first half of the twentieth century."

—Bridget Keown, Northeastern University

Contemporary Reviews

"It is a book in certain ways more remarkable than anything any American has written about the great conflict. In it a woman pictures the war she sees―the physical, mental, moral slime of it―with... frank, crusading ruthlessness."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"If we were to compile an anthology of the ten best war stories about eight of them would be listed under the name of Ellen N. La Motte and credited to The Backwash of War."

The Los Angeles Times

"[La Motte] has rendered an invaluable service to mankind. The world must be prepared for peace, and the only way to accomplish this end is to expose the loathsome truths regarding modern warfare."

Issues and Events: American Liberal Review

"In this volume [an] American hospital nurse lays bare some of the most hideous effects of the war as seen in an evacuation hospital a few miles behind the French lines. These sketches are far from pleasant reading, but they are absolutely truthful and accurate reports of what went on at the front."

The American Review of Reviews

"A glance at any of Miss La Motte's articles will show that she has no illusions whatever concerning war. The scales have fallen from her eyes; she sees the struggle as Swift might have seen it."

The Atlantic Monthly

"[La Motte] portrays with a frankness and realism that are painful the unheroic, the loathsome aspects of war as witnessed by an American nurse in a French field hospital."


"Told in sharp, quick sentences―and relating events in a field hospital near the French lines... The Backwash of War literally breathes, or sobs, sincerity."

New York Times

"Ellen La Motte here shows us war... not magnificent and glorious, but naked and loathsome, as seen in an evacuation hospital."

Publishers Weekly

"It tells unsparingly all that there is to tell―all that has never been told before. [It is] a tremendous artistic achievement."

The Masses

"The most horrible war book ever written is The Backwash of War, by Miss Ellen La Motte, an American nurse who served with the French army. It is so bad that, when the United States entered the late war, it was suppressed by the department of justice."

H. L. Mencken

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