This Remembrance Day I chose to review the classic novel All Quiet on the Western Front. It was written by Erich Remarque and published ten years after the war in 1929. The novel describes the life of Paul Baumer, a fictional German solider in World War I.
The book discusses all aspects of war; from the front, to the hospitals, leave, death, purpose of the war, and peace.
Baumer and his companions frequently reflect on the aftermath of the war. What they will do after the war is unfathomable to them. Their life has become war; something they will not be able to easily adapt from. “It is the common fate of our generation…’the war has ruined us for everything.’ ” Furthermore, fighting has changed their personalities. They fight in hopes of only saving themselves and their own deliverance.
One prevailing theme is that of the deprivation of peace, youth, and quietude. While on sentry duty Paul imagines a distinct memory from his youth. It is a vision of a stream he frequented as a child. What speaks to him most in this apparation is the calming silence: “[Memories] are quiet in this way, because quietness is so unattainable for us now.” Moreover, these visions of yesteryear no longer evoke desire for a return to the tranquil past, but rather an indescribable mournfulness. “They belong to a world that is gone from us….Today we would pass through the scenes of our youth like travellers.”
Perspectives on something as simple and ubiquitous as earth change from the view of a soldier. Soil takes on an entirely new status. “To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier.” Amidst barrages Paul and his peers often seek refuge on the ground. The soil protects them against shells and shrapnel with its furrows, mounds, and hollows.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading All Quiet on the Western Front. It just may be my favourite war novel. The story is a very realistic and engaging. It allows the reader to slip back into time and experience the mentality of a World War I soldier. The novel is short yet provides a comprehensive view of the struggles soldiers faced daily. If you read only one war book in your life choose All Quiet on the Western Front.