Friday, January 2, 2015

All Quiet on the Western Front

"The cries continued.  It is not men, they would not cry so terribly.
      'Wounded horses,' says Kat.
It's unendurable.  It is the moaning of the world, it is martyred creation, wild with anguish, filled with terror, and groaning....
The screaming of the beasts becomes louder.  One can no longer distinguish whence in this now quiet silvery landscape it comes; ghostly, invisible, it is everywhere, between heaven and earth it rolls on immeasurable."

I'm not sure why this description from everything stuck with me except that it stuck with the men as well.  The death, the wounding, the waste of everything and the meaninglessness of it all is emphasized in the destruction of these animals.

Erich Maria Remarque fought in World War I.  This is his reflection.  It is not a memoir, only his impressions.  On more than one occasion he wonders through his characters reactions if both sides of soldiers are simply innocent machines fighting on the orders of nameless, faceless "leaders."  The British soldiers in the Anne Perry Series wonder the same thing.  Both groups recognize the humanity of their foes.  That by far is the saddest part of this novel.  The soldiers we were taught were the enemies were victims as were the soldiers of the allies.

I was also touched by how difficult it was fro the main character, Paul Baumer to return to his home on leave.  No one knows quite how to behave.  No one knows quite what to discuss.  He doesn't seem to belong anymore.  He can't wait to return to the front and his friends.

This is not a very long book.  It is a translation and for the most part it reads smoothly.  There was only one instance that I felt needed a footnote.  Baumer and his friend encounter the teacher who encouraged them to enlist.  He is now also a soldier but they refer to him as "Territorial" Kantorek.  It is used clearly as some sort of rank but I had never heard of it.  With a little reaseach (thank goodness for google) I found out that it is a soldier of the "reserve."  He was considered lower than regular army.  Anyway, a footnote would have been easier.

I recommend this for a look at the other side of World War I.  I may have been able to include this on the Banned Book Challenge because this was the first book the Nazis banned when they began their book burning campaign.


"Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. . . .

This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . .  if only he can come out of the war alive.

“The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.”The New York Times Book Review

1 comment:

  1. I plan to read this one this year and look forward to it. It's not that I like war novels particularly, but I it is one of those classics that I've always known about, but don't think I ever read. And I just want to get into it and see what it is about.

    At one time I thought I maybe read it in elementary school - I went to a Catholic school and they made us read The Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, Red Badge of Courage - so it wouldn't be odd if they made us read this one, too.