All Quiet on the Western Front ~ by Erich Maria Remarque

In all my years of reading I somehow never got around to reading this.  So when I noticed I got it and put it on my Wish List.  Okay, fine.  There it sat for a few years, probably until it went on sale.  Then it sat in my To Be Read folder which I had to create after several sales left me with a small bundle of books I had yet to read. And it sat there for a few years.  

All Quiet on the Western Front
By Erich Maria Remarque
Translated by Arthur Wesley Wheen 
1929 / 304 pages
Read by Frank Muller
Rating: 8 / classic war book  

Now,  having made a commitment of sort (notice the waffling?) I started in.
 
Yes, it’s a slow, beautifully written (or at least nicely worded) meditation on the existential human tragedy of war and on what it took out of a young man of the early-20th century.

It was authored by Erich Maria Remarque about 10 years after the Great War in which he fought and it went on to quickly became a top seller causing a small stir. Pacifists loved it, but in Nazi Germany the book was banned and burned  I don’t know why I even got it except I wanted to be able to say I’d read it  I’m usually averse to war books (and movies) although I got over the worst of my aversion when people told me how wonderful several war books (or films) were and so I tried them. It’s probably been years since I read any kind of war book and times have changed. 

Here we have a young German, Paul Bäumer, at about age 18 who just joined the military because Germany has gone to war.  I’ve read plenty about European and the US before, during and after WWI, and it’s been fiction and nonfiction.  I was a history major and kept up as a kind of history buff. I think it’s just interesting to me. 

Although the narrative of All Quiet on the Western Front  gets pretty graphic: “A blow from a spade cleaves through his face” books which focus on violence get much worse today. Also, much of the language is way out of date so that helps to distance the prose and the story from this reader.  He’s tying for beautiful writing about horrible things.  Writers today just invent as horrific a story as they can and see if they can write about that. I don’t like that either.  Life is too often grim enough without adding to it.

As I said, I think times have changed.  This was the first book of what became known as the war genre. There have been lots of similar books since. Of those few I’ve read, this may be closest to a book called “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.  The spirit seems to be that of the few anti-war movies I viewed. The only war book I’ve read which is not anti-war is The Matterhorn but that was taken up by anti-war activists.  

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/most-loved-and-hated-novel-about-world-war-I-180955540/

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4 Responses to All Quiet on the Western Front ~ by Erich Maria Remarque

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I read this a long time ago, and yes, I wonder how I would react if I read it now because things have changed.
    I think it would have been banned in Germany in ?1928 because that’s when nationalism and fascism started to emerge…

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    • I think maybe it was poor timing for me to read it now. This whole country is tired of crises and death. It’s been a year and a half now! I should be reading lighter fare not realistic war novels. At least it’s off my “to read” list.

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      • Lisa Hill says:

        I don’t know… some people are enjoying escapist novels, but I find that I get a better perspective on how things are going when I read stories about people who are/were doing it really tough.

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  2. Lisa – that would be an interesting study by someone. I know the Booker Prize Longlist which was just released seemed less grim and violent. Back during the Great Depression folks were swarming to the fanciful movies. Curious.

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