Saturday, 16 November 2013

Book Review: All Quiet On The Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

Following my last post about Remembrance Day, I have decided to make this week Remembrance Week.
An absolute classic in terms of WWI literature has to be All Quiet On The Western Front, by war veteran Erich Maria Remarque. Cruel history surrounds this book, as the Nazis burned Remarque's novel, revoked his German citizenship, and executed his sister.
I watched the 1979 TV film at school, aged 13, and it was such a powerful story that I recalled crying hours after the ending, as if the death in the film had only just hit me. I remember thinking, it's just so sad, and when I finally read the book last year, I found my thoughts were exactly the same.
Published in 1929, All Quiet On The Western Front details the experiences of 19-year-old Paul Baumer and his comrades in 1917. As you would expect from a war novel, the sights of the battlefield and horrible injuries are described starkly, but what sets this apart is that Remarque really was a part of it. There is a sense of gritty, unforgiving reality which is not achieved in other WWI novels, written by those who didn't experience it first hand.
The novel was applauded for it's truthful depiction of the psychology of the infantrymen, and you sense the despair and detachment from the civilian world echoing out from the pages. For me, the most saddening part of the novel is when Baumer returns home. His regret at going on leave and the loss of connection to 'ordinary' life is so hopeless, so empty, that at the end you can't help but feel that's the only way it could have been for this disillusioned young man.  
As I said, this novel is an absolute classic. It reveals much about the early twentieth-century world, and commands the reader to recognise how young men like Baumer were destroyed by the war, even if they did manage to make it home.

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