All Quiet on the Western Front

Many claim that All Quiet on the Western Front is the greatest war novel of all time. Now I haven’t read that many war novels. However, I will say this is a damn good novel. If you only read one war novel in your life, I highly recommend this one. If you want to understand how the common soldier feels, not only physically but emotionally, this is the novel for you. Erich Maria Remarque does not sugarcoat things. He doesn’t romanticize war. He doesn’t claim that it’s the greatest adventure. He does not advocate war.

Paul Bäumer is a young German who enlisted in the army with his classmates when World War I began. The enthusiastic youths soon discover that war is hell, especially trench warfare. He and his comrades have to face hardships and atrocities that civilians will never be able to understand.

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards—they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

Remarque’s descriptions of trench warfare are chilling. As the war dragged on, the casualties mounted. Germany had to send green recruits to the front without proper training. Most did not survive.

Although we need reinforcement, the recruits give us almost more trouble than they are worth. They are helpless in this grim fighting area, they fall like flies. Modern trench-warfare demands knowledge and experience; a man must have a feeling for the contours of the ground, an ear for the sound and character of the shells, must be able to decide beforehand where they will drop, how they will burst, and how to shelter from them.

As the war progresses, Paul learns that the enemy is not too different from him. On the other side are young men fighting for their country, just like Paul and his comrades. They have the same hopes and fears. They are going through the same hell. When Paul has to confront an enemy soldier that he has killed it has a profound effect on him.

Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to be before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was the abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?

Reading this novel is gut-wrenching. War is never an easy subject matter. I understand that. I also recognize that too many nations send their young men and women off to war. This novel should be required reading. It teaches about the horrors inflicted on the young people who have to fight. No one should experience what these people experienced. This novel will more than likely have a profound effect on most readers. In fact, the Nazis banned this book when they came to power. They were planning a war and they wanted people to be excited about it. They didn’t want their citizens to learn the true horrors of battle, which this book clearly shows.

Erich Maria Remarque fought in World War I. He was wounded five times. In 1939 he moved to the United States. After World War II he moved to Switzerland. When he published this novel he became famous and wealthy. This did not discourage his mission. He wanted to write about the inhumanity and atrocities of war. All of his subsequent novels (I haven’t read any other works by him) all concentrate on these topics. He knew firsthand how awful it was. And he knew firsthand the effects on the common soldier. Each time I read this novel I’m amazed by how real he makes the war. It leaves me in awe and in fear.

This novel is on my 1001 list. Also, it counts towards my goal of reading more novels from around the world. Does anyone have any more suggestions for war novels?

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to All Quiet on the Western Front

  1. You know, I’ve never read that one – maybe I should add it to my ever growing TBR list :).

    • TBM says:

      I know your list is long, but yes, do add it. It’s wonderful in a depressing way. I know that doesn’t sound good, but it is a great novel. Several of my family members are vets from WWI and WWII–I can’t imagine what they went through. War is so awful. I don’t understand why nations keep going to war.

      • Ok, found it and downloaded it for free!! Books like this certainly do open up our eyes don’t they? I mean our lives have been so good really. We think we have it bad sometimes, and we are shocked by what we see on the news, but we have never had to live through it first hand, and we don’t have a clue!! I recently finished Winter of the World, which is the second book in a series by Ken Follett. It takes place during WWII, and what I particularly liked about it was that not only does it detail what the soldiers when through, but it also paints a very vivid picture of what the civilians went through. I had no idea of some of the things that went on. I really think you would like that series!

      • TBM says:

        Thanks! I’ll look into the series. I’m fascinated by the home front as well. And yes, I feel spoiled by how easy my life has been on some levels. I couldn’t imagine living through a war that was in my country and seeing the effects every day. When I watch the news I don’t even know what to think or say.

      • It’s beyond one’s comprehension isn’t it?

      • TBM says:

        Very much so. And it’s depressing. No one should have to live through such horrors, then or now.

  2. there’s a 1930 film adaptation that’s well-respected.

    for war novels, these are the war novels i’ve read and can recommend tolstoy’s war and peace; captain corelli’s mandolin by louis de bernieres (ww2, british), heller’s catch 22 (ww2 american), vonnegut’s slaughterhouse 5 (ww2 american), waugh’s sword of honour trilogy (english ww2) barker’s the ghost road (british, ww1), mrs. dalloway has a plot thread that concerns the post-war struggles of a ww1 vet, hersey’s a bell for adano (ww2, american); civil war: the killer angels by shaara, gone with the wind if you haven’t read it and can find it unabridged, frazier’s cold mountain.

    no translated works except for tolstoy, i see. hmmm.

    • TBM says:

      Yes! I’ve actually read some from your list. Usually I haven’t and feel silly. Of course I have to reread all of your suggestions for my 1001 challenge, except for Mrs. Dalloway which I read a year ago so it officially counts. One down! I really enjoyed that book. I haven’t read War and Peace, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Sword of Honour, Ghost Road, Bell for Adano, Gone with the Wind, or Cold Mountain. I may start with one of those before the rereads. However, I already own copies of the rereads. Thanks for all of the suggestions!

  3. The Hook says:

    Another great share! You rock!

  4. Lindy says:

    I really liked this book. Read it for school many years ago.

  5. bocafrau says:

    I remember we watched the movie in my world history class in 11th grade and it did have a lasting impact on me. It’s one of the first war movies I really watched and I still remember bits and pieces of it. I can only imagine that the book is much more detailed and gut-wrenching.

    • TBM says:

      I still haven’t seen the movie, the 1930 version. They had a recent version on the telly this weekend but couldn’t watch it since I hadn’t finished the book yet.

  6. Dounia says:

    I read this book in 10th grade, years ago, but I loved it even then. I agree with what you said that it’s beautiful, even if in a depressing way. I saw someone already recommended Catch-22, but I would definitely recommend it also. It’s so different from All Quiet on the Western Front, but it embodies the absurdity of war, and it is fantastically written. The Plague by Camus isn’t literally about war, but it’s an allegory for WW2 and I find it very powerful. If I think of any others I’ll make sure to let you know! This was a great post, by the way – thanks for all the great book ideas and excellent reviews to go with them!

    • TBM says:

      I love Catch 22. It’s funnier, but still makes a great point: war is absurd. I have the Plague sitting out on my TBR pile. I read it years ago in school, but I think it’s time for a reread. Thanks!

  7. lazybill says:

    I’ve watched the film but not read the book. Sebastian Faulkes’s book Birdsong is also a brilliant WWI novel but what appears to make AQOTWF more personal is that from the extracts you have quoted, it is written in the first person.

  8. CFisher says:

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned but The Short Timers by Gustav Hasford is worth tracking down. Based on his experiences in the Vietnam War it was turned into Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick. Also, war-related, but as a What-if-the-US-lost-WW2 alternative history, is Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. And, I’m being very, very cheeky, there is my own novel A Republic of Wolves. A City of Ghosts, based in a Spanish Republic that didn’t lost to General Franco. Have a look at it on Amazon. I’d be delighted to send you a copy.

    • TBM says:

      I’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, but didn’t know it was based on a book. Thanks. And I like your cheekiness. Where in Spain did you live?

      • CFisher says:

        I live just outside Madrid. I’ve been here ten years, which is hard to believe given how quickly they’ve passed. If you’d like a copy of my novel drop a line with an address I can send it to at acityofghosts@gmail.com. I’ll get it sent out to you asap. Although I enjoyed The Short Timers (and Full Metal Jacket), I’d say The Man in the High Castle is the better of the two. Without being in any way heavy, Dick manages to make you think about modern culture in the Disney era, particularly the need to appropriate other cultures.

      • TBM says:

        Thanks for the suggestion! And I sent you an email about your book. Looking forward to your response.

  9. lynnsbooks says:

    Another great review. You’re certainly getting through these tougher reads at the moment. They’re such good books though. You’ve already got some good suggestions here. Birdsong is a really good book. I enjoyed Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Cold Mountain is also very gritty and harsh. Gone With the Wind – less gritty but still a great read.
    Or, if you wouldn’t mind reading an epic wartime romance you could try The Bronze Horseman which is based on the siege of Leningrad during WWII.
    Lynn 😀

    • TBM says:

      A wartime romance. I love it! That’s the best part about reading, there are so many different books to fit my mood and broaden my horizons. And book bloggers are always ready with suggestions. Thanks Lynn!

  10. This book would be perfect for Tyler. He is away at the moment but I am going to see if the library has it when I go this arvo 🙂

  11. IsobelandCat says:

    I agree this is an excellent book. Have you read Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong? or Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy? Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces? Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning? Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, or the children’s books The Silver Sword by Ian Serraiilier, The Otterbury Incident by C Day Lewis, or Faraway Home by Marilyn Taylor, Remembrance by Theresa Breslin? Non-fiction has to start with Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. I could go on….

    • TBM says:

      wow, I haven’t read any of them. On my TBR they go. Once I get through these I’ll hit you up for more. Thanks Isobel!

      • IsobelandCat says:

        saw another commnet here. Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks did much of their research in the reading room in the dome of the IWM. So did Ian McEwan for Atonement. There’s another war novel for you, and I know you have Sarah Waters lined up sometime.

      • TBM says:

        I might read the Waters novel soon after finishing The Heat of the Day.

      • IsobelandCat says:

        The Heat of the Day, another great novel. I have just finished Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers and now want to visit Masada.

      • TBM says:

        Haven’t heard of the Dove Keepers. Will see if the library has a copy.

  12. That is a wonderful book! I loved it as well… and I really enjoyed the quotes that you inserted. You can get to know a lot about a person by the quotes that they choose!

    If you do like war novels, you might enjoy Timothy Findlay — he’s a Canadian author whose books have a similar style.. I just finished Beautiful Ruins – a travel book based in the US and the Amalfi Coast in Italy.. It was fantastic!

  13. Fergiemoto says:

    Great review! Thank you.

  14. poppytump says:

    Thanks for the tip TBM have heard of it of course but not read it.
    Strangely enough I have just read Pat Barker’s Trilogy Regeneration /The Eye in the Door /and Ghost Road whilst away as they had been on my TBR list for ages . Thoroughly researched mixture of fact and fiction . How on earth she managed to get in ‘role’ I have no idea but have greatest admiration for the way she handled it .
    Sebation Faulks Birdsong . tick
    The Welsh Girl Peter Ho Davies tick . something slightly different . Not heavy going but thought provoking from several angles.

    • TBM says:

      Thanks for the suggestions, and I always love something slightly different. Haven’t heard of Pat Barker, but will look into it. I hope all has been well.

      • poppytump says:

        Oh yes *just perfect* thank you TBM 🙂
        … now I am enjoying pottering around catching up with peoples blogs in between laundry & other necessary correspondence duties :-/

      • TBM says:

        Getting caught up can be fun and such a chore. I love reading people’s blogs. I hate doing laundry and cleaning. I’ve been cleaning all day and I’m ready for a break.

  15. Geoff W says:

    I need to re-read this. I was forced to read it in high school and I was entirely way too young. I had no appreciation for it. I’m hoping to re-read a lot of those I was supposed to read because I know how much I’ve changed and my views on literature have changed.

    • TBM says:

      This may come across the wrong way, but it’s such a shame they “force” these great novels on us in high school since I know many of us aren’t ready to read wonderful writers yet. I don’t see a way around it since I also think these novels should be taught. But I fear many of us form a bad opinion from the start and don’t take the time to rectify that later in life. I highly recommend that you do reread this one. Let me know what you think.

      • Geoff W says:

        Yeah I think a lot of it is maturity level. I feel like my first year novels were appropriate but everything after that was sort of too much. I mean I remember most everything but I had no appreciation for language or the story as it was all about synthesizing the novels not appreciating them.

      • TBM says:

        I was the teen who hated being told what to do–yeah, pretty typical. The classics that I chose to read on my own during those years I liked. The ones my stuffy English teachers forced on me I sighed and then read them. You know, I’m really glad I’m not a teenager anymore. So much work to “despise” everything.

Thanks for commenting, I would love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s