Review: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.”
~Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Plot summary

“This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I. These young men become enthusiastic soldiers, but their world of duty, culture, and progress breaks into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the hatred 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.” More on Goodreads

On Erich Maria Remarque

“Erich Maria Remarque is one of the best known and most widely read authors of German literature in the twentieth century.

Remarque’s biography is essentially marked and his writing fundamentally influenced by German history of the twentieth century: Childhood and youth in imperial Osnabrück, World War I, the Weimar Republic, and most of all his exile in Switzerland and the United States. With the novel All Quiet On the Western Front, first published in 1929, Remarque attained world-wide recognition continuing today.

Remarque’s novels have been translated in more than fifty languages; globally the total edition comes up to several million copies.

The complete works of Remarque are both highly interrelated with his Osnabrück background and speaking thematically of a critical examination of German history, whereby the preservation of human dignity and humanity in times of oppression, terror and war always was at the forefront of his literary creation.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Youth with youth against the war machine
  • Bureaucracy of war
  • Bildungsroman (novel of formation or of education, a coming-of-age story)
Review

Erich Maria Remarque’s (1898-1970) novel Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) was originally published in a serial form in Vossische Zeitung magazine in the fall of 1928. The book form was released the following year and the novel sold over one million copies in 1929.

The novel has been ascribed to the school of the Neue Sachlichkeit (‘New Objectivity’), a popular concept in art as a reaction against expressionism during the Weimar era in Germany. According to Brian Murdoch (2006), this “fits with the highly objective, realistic style of the narration. This style attempts to replicate the thoughts and experiences of a soldier during the First World War within the context of that time. The text removes explicit references to later events or foresight towards post-war realizations about the war.”

Lost Generation of the Trenches

War stories and films have always fascinated me in their gruesome horribleness. In My Top 30 Books list, there is also another representative for World War I, Johnny Got His Gun by the American novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1939). If Remarque’s famous anti-war novel could be characterized by the powerful revolt of the youth against the big war machine, Trumbo gives you the chill of you lifetime. Johnny Got His Gun gets all the way to your bones and makes you have good old nightmares, so in that sense it leaves a more impressionable mark on the reader. But enough about Johnny since there will be a separate review on the novel later on.

Remarque belongs to the very same lost generation as Huxley and Fitzgerald. The characters in All Quiet on the Western Front are also disillusioned: their short-term goal is to make it back home alive, experience youth as it is supposed to be lived outside of the trenches.

The Great War is in many senses a different concept of war compared with World War II. Many nations marched in a glorious self-deception to the war, only to be humiliated by the long duration of the war and the changing sentiment towards the fighting.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a pure classic, so the novel speaks for itself, without extended elaboration. And I don’t want to spoil the details for you. It’s a beautiful anti-war story and an elegy for the youthful spirit that abides longer than any individual war does.

More information
– History.com: Remarque publishes All Quiet on the Western Front, published in the This Day in History series, retrieved on 31 October 2016
– Patrick Clardy (2010): All Quiet on the Western Front, Yale Modernism Lab, retrieved on 31 October 2016
– Brian Murdoch (2006): The Novels of Erich Maria Remarque: Sparks of Life, Rochester, NY: Camden House 2006), p. 44
– Museum of Modern Art: German Expressionism – New Objectivity, MOMA Collection, retrieved on 31 October 2016
– Patrick Sauer (16 June 2015): The Most Loved and Hated Novel About World War I, published on smithsonian.com, retrieved on 31 October 2016

Other novels by Remarque
  • The Road Back (1931)
  • Three Comrades (1936)
  • Arch of Triumph (1945)
  • The Black Obelisk (1956)
  • Heaven Nas No Favorites (1961)
  • Night in Lisbon (1962)
  • Shadows in Paradise (1971)
Other war/conflict novels and stories

Here’s a list of novels and short story collections that I do highly recommend. They offer different perspectives to the concept of war and conflict situations. I also added one science fiction novel describing a conflict/war situation.

  • George Orwell: Homage to Catalonia (1938) – Spanish Civil War
  • Dalton Trumbo: Johnny Got His Gun (1939) – World War I
  • Norman Lewis: A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam – First Indochina War
  • Väinö Linna: The Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon sotilas, 1954) – Continuation War / World War II
  • Veijo Meri: The Manila Rope (Manillaköysi, 1957) – Continuation War / World War II
  • Wolfgang Leonhard: Child of the Revolution (Die Revolution Entlässt Ihre Kinder, 1955) – Cold War
  • Joseph Heller: Catch-22 (1961) – World War II
  • Vladimir Voinovich: The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin (1969) – World War II
  • Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried (1990) – Vietnam War
  • Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter: Time’s Eye (2003) – science fiction

“We have so much to say, and we shall never say it.”
~Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

#germanlitmonth

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Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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