At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town they say. Depart immediately to open country.
The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars.
-- Opening paragraphs of All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last week.
What impresses me about this passage is the almost complete absence of humans in it. Even though the section describes the dropping of leaflets from a plane warning a town to prepare for an Allied bombardment, there is no mention of people picking up the leaflets and reading them, of people panicking and streaming out of town, of anyone in these streets and under these rooftops doing anything at all. The town seems inert, weary, resigned.
The whole act of picking out a town for bombardment and warning is rendered completely impersonal and bloodless. This absence of human activity and response contributes to the drama when the first human action occurs, when "American military units" (also very impersonal) drop (here is the human action) shells into mortars. The mortars themselves, which have mouths, are more human than anything else in this passage.