Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Translated by A.W. Wheen. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
Do people consider this a classic? I think I have been aware of this book for the past 35 years but have never read it before now. If someone said “all quiet” I would finish with “on the western front.”
Throughout All Quiet on the Western Front there is the theme of a lost innocence. Soldiers as young as 18 or 19 reflect on a childhood lost. The main character of Paul Baumer is constantly thinking about how, if he were to survive the war, he could never relate to the peacetime world around him. He scoffs at the word “peace.” I saw All Quiet as a commentary on survival in its purest form. Doing anything and everything you can to live another day. When one soldier is obviously on death’s door another wants his boots and starts planning a strategy to get them…even before the dying man has drawn his last breath. This is not callousness personified. This is survival. He knows the boots are of no use to the dying soldier. They would be to him, if only he could get them before someone else does. Ironically, the boots are later passed along to Paul eventually.
Another aspect of Remarque’s work that bears mentioning is the detail he pays to describing death. While the images are unforgiving, violent and grotesque, it is war in its truest state and at its worst. Some of the images that stuck with me: a butterfly flitting around a field of dead men and finally settling to rest on the teeth of a corpse; a screaming horse that can’t be put out of his misery because he will reveal the hiding place of the soldiers.
Lines that moved me one way or another, “The army is based on that; one man must always have power over the other. The mischief is merely that each one has too much power” (p 44) and “At the same time he ventilated his backside” (p 83).
Book Trivia: This was made into a movie twice – once in 1930 and again almost 50 years later in 1979. It won an Academy Award in 1930.
Author Fact: Remarque served as a soldier on the western front in World War I. I can’t help but think All Quiet on the Western Front is almost autobiographical.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two chapters “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1920s” (p 176) and “World War I Fiction” (p 250).