Summer. Friends pose for a photograph on a beach. They are tanned and at ease in their outfits of white linen and cotton. The men cover their heads against the bright sun, the women wear their hair bobbed or tied back. They look in the prime of life, mostly in their late twenties or early thirties: young professionals (lawyers, publishers, teachers, a couple of artists) on a group holiday at the Mediterranean coast. They smile or gaze at the view; a small child in its mother’s lap waves to the camera. The photographer—no doubt a local, working the beach during the season—has carefully inscribed the plate with his reference number and the date: 25/vii/1914. The beach is at Novi Vinodolski, on the Adriatic.
The confident man of twenty-nine sitting at the bottom of the photograph is my grandfather Béla Zombory-Moldován, a young artist oblivious to the fact that his carefree holiday is about to be cut short. In three days his country, Austria-Hungary, will be at war. A week from now he will be in uniform, and in just over a month he will be a thousand kilometers away, watching in horror as his comrades are torn apart by Russian artillery in the forests of Galicia.
—Peter Zombory-Moldovan, from the introduction to the First World War memoir The Burning of the World by Béla Zombory-Moldován
The Burning of the World, which Booklist, in a starred review, called “haunting, heartbreaking, and beautifully written,” will be available, for the first time anywhere, on August 5, 2014.