Wednesday, 11 April 2012

All Quiet on the Western Front - by Erich Maria Remarque - review




"There are books that should be read by every generation. The latest translation and republication of Remarque's story of German trench soldiers of the 1914-18 war gains even more authority in the context of the loss of life in war's that still rage from Bosnia to Kashmir" -  Chris Searle.

"This book is intended neither as an accusation nor as a confession, but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war -  even those of it who survived the shelling." -  E.M.Remarque
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I could, literally, leave my review at the above and simply advise you to read this book. But, that would be too easy and I have been too moved by it to do that.

We follow the journey of Paul Baumer, a young soldier who, upon the outbreak of War in August 1914, joins up with the lads from his class. We join him at the front and are thrust immediately into the daily struggles, shells, wounds, laughter, death and life of trench warfare.

I forgot, at points, that I was reading this from the opposite side of No Man's Land. I have read very little about the German soldiers from The Great War, something I am in the process of remedying, and this book seemed as good a place to start as any. 

That and the fact that there is little out there in English for me to actually read.

Like Goodbye to All That -  All Quiet on the Western Front is a saying that has become a by-word for that era. The German translation means "No Change on the Western Front" -  which, for nearly 3 years of attrition and tit-for-tat ground gain from both sides -  is a darn good title.

There are many sickening and poignant moments weaved into the drudgery of an existence lived in a state of anticipation of life, food, death, wound or simply letters from home. Moments that left me laughing out loud or with silent, steaming tears.

No battles nor locations are named, which makes this novel timeless. You could be at any point of the conflict -  on any side. There is little "them and us" during the narrative, giving a real sense of what it was like for all trench soldiers. Be they French, Canadian, British or German.

I found it easy to read, being written in the first person, which never ceases to enable me to connect instantly to a story.

No horror or humour is left unrecorded. You are aware, with every page, the impact that the events are having on the protagonist.

The impact on me of this book has been vast. Although I already felt this way, it compounded my belief that, during this War there were no real winners. Only losers. Be that of belief, mental health, humanity or life itself -  survivors were left with little but the horror of time spent "doing their bit".

A 10/10 from me.

6 comments:

  1. I love "All Quiet on the western front", for me it´s a must-read. We read it in class back when I was a teenager and it was the only "forced read" I enjoyed and re-read many times after I left school. To me the book isn´t only about how horrible war is, but also about how wonderful and important the little things in life are.

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  2. It's an excellent piece of writing and one that most definitely should be widely read.

    As regards WW2, have you ever read "On the other side: Letters to my children from Germany 1940-1946" by Mathilde Wolff Monckeberg? It really is awfully good and very sad, too. It would have been quite dangerous for her had these letters and diaries been discovered as she did not toe the party line, so to speak.

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  3. I agree this should be read more often. Some books need to be read because they teach us something about what it is to be human (often in the face of massive inhumanity).

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  4. Great post and aw onderful book. I gave a copy to my sons when they were ten years old and they read it. They've read it since and it's one of their favourites. I'm quite taken by the Lew Ayres film version too. My gran said I had to watch it because it was an important film and I always did as I was told! xxxx

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  5. I saw the film at school but have never read the book - I really should. It sounds great in the true sense of the word.

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I'd love to hear what you think so feel free to comment away!

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