All Quiet on the Western Front – by Erich Maria Remarque – independent book review – Historical Fiction (World War I)

A classic with a well-deserved reputation. This is a powerful, brutal, and hopeless account of war. Awarded five stars on Goodreads.

westernfrontA remarkable and poetic book! This World War I novel, when it appeared in 1928, almost singlehandedly refashioned the way in which World War I was viewed. It’s the single most powerful anti-war novel I’ve read — and I have read many books about the two World Wars. In fact it’s hard to do this book justice in a simple review.

An international bestseller, and only 200 pages long, Remarque lays out the utter futility of war. In language that is direct, concise, and eloquent, he unravels all its bleak layers. Through one German soldier’s narration (Paul), we learn about an entire generation of young men — lost in the inhumane reality and callousness of years in the trenches, overwhelmed by the deeply complex and mixed feelings a few days leave can cause, and relentlessly facing the randomness of sudden injury and death. These are boys really, forced into an initiation into adulthood that involves total immersion into filth, disease, hunger, fear and death — with virtually no respite. No wonder they can no longer connect with their families of origin and hold no expectations for any future.

Nothing is left to the imagination. Paul starves, hides, kills, watches inept officers, examines prisoners of war, buries comrades, visits home, and witnesses the uneven quality of medical care provided to the injured. It’s a world where soldiers have only one another for support and comfort. “More intimate than lovers” as Remarque puts it. And yet, at the moment one of their own is about to die, the most pressing concern is who takes possession of the dying friend’s still-intact boots.

Remarque (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Often, while reading, I found I needed a break from passages that were so raw, disturbing or poignant. This is certainly not a book for the faint-hearted. It takes stamina to complete. At the same time, I wish it were required reading for any politician or general who thinks conflict is a responsible way to problem solve.

No wonder many consider this the greatest war novel of all time. No wonder many credit it with changing worldwide views on World War I. And no wonder is was banned by the Nazis.

More about the author, German novelist Erich Maria Remarque (1898 – 1970).


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