All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

This was yet another book assigned to me in my English class this year. Surprisingly, contrary to the other books our class has read, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Typically, I have a strong repulsive reflex to gore and all war related subjects. The discomfort my stomach feels and the immense sorrow I feel for fallen soldiers weighs my heart down. Remarque’s novel did just that but to my surprise, this book is one I’d read again.

Nineteen year old Paul Baumer narrates the daily lives of him and his German companions as they experience the horrors of World War I. Technological and warfare advancements such as trench warfare, tanks and poison gas pose serious threat to these inexperienced young boys. Paul gives a detailed account of the inhumane living conditions and terrific attacks where every man’s life is on the line and chance is the determining factor if one lives or gets blown up. A reader gets to meet and befriend all of Paul’s closest companions: Kat, Tjaden, Kropp, Kemmerich and others that Remarque reveals are the only people in the world that can understand and love Paul. Together they flirt with girls in attempt to regain their innocence and connection of the world they left behind and together they fight to survive, not only to keep themselves alive but to stay alive to support and comfort each other. There are humorous moments and there are melancholic moments that all coalesce to make Remarque’s masterpiece.

Like many war novels, the conditions and experiences sound absurd to civilians back at home. However, while majority of war novels glorify the bravery and heroism of soldiers, Remarque’s novel takes an opposing standpoint. War is not beautiful nor adventurous; war is a slaughterhouse that takes souls, strips them of innocence and leaves them fearful and desensitized. I love that Remarque chooses to focus on the negative effects of war and admonishes society for our constant exaltation of combat. Young children in our society have minds filled to the brim of the same ideals that Paul and his friends were taught in grade school. Their teacher, Kantorek, pounds patriotism into their young minds and shoves the hungry desire for glory down their throats. But the brutality of war destroyed any want to serve their country and gain homage back at home; Remarque desperately wants society to recognize his pleas of reducing war glorification.

The loss of innocence and the admonishing of war glorification is only two of the numerous themes depicted in this work. There are touching themes of friendship and there are heart wrenching themes of the Lost Generation that make the reader reflect on humanity and the value of life rather than spurring the reader into an acclaim of warfare. Remarque’s work is bittersweet, providing immense catharsis but an unsettling question in the back of one’s mind. Is war worth the pain? Are those who survive wars really surviving if they come back home only to suffer from PTSD and detachment from a life they once lived? There is no other book I’d recommend to a reader who wants a gripping but thought-provoking read.

-Jessica T.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is availalbe for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

allquiet_erichremarqueWar has always been a big part of my family’s history. The impact war has on people and society changes the course of history. The war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, depicts foot soldiers in the German infantry during World War I. Illustrating the intense violence and hardships of real war, this book shuts down theories people have made to convince themselves that war is an awesome event. Most action video games glorify war with blood, gore, and kills, but real war is nothing like that. There is no pleasure in taking the life of another human being nor are there any extra lives to bring one back from death.

This book accurately shows the reality versus romanticism that war is normally associated with. Even in the early 1900’s, people believed war glorified people and brought out the heroes inside them. All Quiet on the Western Front convinces us otherwise. The characters in this novel do what they have to in order to survive, including taking refuge in a graveyard. We were required to read this book for our English class, and it has opened my eyes into the reality of the world and the things people can do to other people. If you can, read this book because you will have your eyes opened too.

-Kyle H.

All Quiet on the Western Front is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

allquiet_erichremarqueSet deep in World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front follows young German recruit Paul Baumer as he details his wartime experiences from signing up for the war with his graduating class to fighting in the trenches of the unforgiving Western Front. The war novel was written by German war veteran Erich Maria Remarque, and was published in 1929 to the dismay of the Nazi regime. It tackles ideas of loss, hope, adolescence and growth, and provides an in-depth look in the human condition.

One thing I noticed right away was Remarque’s uncanny ability to describe the setting at which the book was taking place, whether at a training camp, the Western Front, or Paul’s hometown in Germany. The author detailed descriptions of the hardships in the trenches, from the gnawing rats to the constant pounding of shells above, is so well written that you can’t help but get immersed into the setting.

The characterization is also very well done in this novel. You get a good feel for the camaraderie between the characters in war, and how important that is to survive in such a harsh setting. Remarque also introduces the various characters very distinctly so confusion wouldn’t be an issue. He lists certain traits they have at first, then elaborates and expands on those traits as the story goes on and different events take place. A few examples include:

  • Katczinsky- the oldest of the group, a crafty man who is a master at finding food and supplies
  • Tjaden- a defiant young man who loves to eat yet is somehow incredibly skinny
  • Detering- a peat digger who misses his life at home, works well with animals

The characters all interact with each other in a realistic, believable manner for the time and dialogue is heavy with dialect and references. The character development is great, and is one of the major themes of the story. The impact of the war on the soldiers is apparent and is shown subtly through differences in actions and speech.

I felt that the pacing of the story was excellent for the most part as well. The story starts o ff near the battlefield, then switches between the trenches, training camps, or in other locations far from war. This keeps the setting fresh and doesn’t drag on in one specific location for too long, except the hospital chapter where I felt it was dragged on for a little too long.

The effect of the war on the soldier is a huge theme. Men in war lose all identity and the futures of the young recruits are ruined. PTSD plays a role along with various coping strategies and defense mechanisms soldiers use to compensate for the horrors of war.

Because of these, the story has a lot of dark and mature themes, coupled with explicit violence that makes this a story that none under the age of 13 should be allowed to read.  For anyone else though, this is a phenomenal war novel that analyzes human race as a whole, I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an insightful, historical novel.

-Ahmed Hussaini, 11th grade

All Quiet on the Western Front is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library and Axis360