Thursday, December 3, 2009

291. All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

History: The novel was first published in November and December 1928 in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung and in book form in late January 1929. The book and its sequel, The Road Back, were among the books banned and burned in Nazi Germany.
Plot: The story follows the experiences of Paul Bäumer, a soldier whose teacher inspires him to join the German army shortly after the start of World War I. He arrives on the Western Front with his friends (Tjaden, Müller, Kropp and a number of other characters) and meets Stanislaus Katczinsky, known as Kat. The older Kat soon becomes Paul's mentor. Paul and his friends have to endure day after day of non-stop bombardment.
The book does not focus on heroic stories of bravery, but rather gives a view of the conditions in which the soldiers found themselves. The monotony, the constant artillery fire, the struggle to find food, and the overarching role of chance in the lives and deaths of the soldiers, are all described in detail. Unlike many other war novels, here individual battles have no names and are of little significance. Rather, one after another each battle offers a new chance for Paul and his comrades to be killed. The armies fight battles to gain pitifully small pieces of land, only to lose them again later.
Paul's visit on leave to his home highlights the cost of the war on his psyche. The town has not changed since he went off to war; however, he finds that he does "not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world." He feels disconnected from most of the townspeople. The only person he remains connected to is his dying mother, with whom he shares a tender yet restrained relationship.
He returns to the front, the place he now feel he belongs, with his old comrades. He gets injured in his leg and spends time in the hospital with his friend, Kropp, who eventually has to have an amputation and falls into depression.
Back on the front, the bombing continues. One by one, all Pauls friends are killed. In the autumn of 1918, rumors abound that German will soon surrender. Paul is again injured, this time through a poisoned gas attack and he knows that this will be a permanent injury that he will not be able to fully recover from. He is again sent back to the Front Line in October 1918. This time, Paul is killed. Unusually, it was a quiet day in the trenches. The army report for that day reads, “All quiet on the Western Front.” Observers note that Paul’s expression was one of calm and tranquility.
Review: All wars are awful. The young men who fight the wars, hate them. They return home and write about how their wartime experience consisted of long periods of boredom, hunger, cold (or hot), loneliness, and terror, punctuated by brief interludes of greater terror, carnage, brutality, and death and dying. To that extent at least, every war is the same and it is the same for both the victor and the vanquished. The violence and horror are graffic in this novel, not an easy book to enjoy. But important, because it is anti war and their can't be enough anti war novels.
Opening Line: "This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession."
Closing Line: "His face had an expression of calm, as if almost glad the end had come."
Quotes: "We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing 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."
Rating: Good, but violent.

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