“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war.” This is the opening quote to one of the most influential novels ever published, “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
Written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I, and published in novel form in 1929, “All Quiet on the Western Front” follows Paul Bäumer and his schoolmates as they join the German army shortly after the start of World War I.
The novel starts off introducing the majority of the characters we’ll follow as they get extra food rations because half of their company didn’t return from battle. Everything begins to spiral downwards after this point and doesn’t stop until the plot crashes down on the very last page.
Published at a time when people were called cowards for not joining the army, “All Quiet on the Western Front” was highly controversial in Germany. The crude humor and scenes where sex is implied also contributes to its controversial status.
This novel and it’s sequel “The Road Back” were banned in Nazi Germany and burned, yet it still managed to sell 2.5 million copies in 22 languages during its first 18 months in print.
The first time I read “All Quiet on the Western Front” was during my fourth and final year of German in high school where I read the English version translated by A. W. Wheen. After finishing the novel in English, I took on the challenge of reading it in German, published under the original title “Im Westen nichts Neues” which literally translates as “In the West nothing New.”
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is a novel that challenges how people think, especially during times of war. The most heart-wrenching scene I’ve ever had the pleasure to read occurs later in the novel when Paul attacks a French soldier in the trenches. As the soldier is slowly dying, Paul tries to help the soldier by giving him water, calling the soldier ‘comrade’. Paul even talks to the soldier about how pointless the war is, how they’re both fighting for what they believe to be right and how they could have been friends if the war never started.
I will not spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it, as it is one of the most powerful endings to a book I’ve ever read and it is bittersweet at best. This is one of two books where I have genuinely cried while reading it and after finishing it.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is the novel that continues to inspire my own fictitious work in the dystopian-war genre and was the first novel I read in the genre. This novel taught me that war is neither glorious or heroic. War is death, fear, despair and above all else, Hell.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” has been hailed by multiple countries for tackling the subject of war. From Germany, “The Greatest war book that has yet been written” – Redakteur Stohr. From France: “It should be distributed by the millions and read in every school” – Le Monde. From Sweden: “It is a great document. A powerful work of art. All other books about the war become small and insignificant by comparison” – Albert Engstrom, the Swedish Academy in Sondags Nisse.
Everyone needs to read this book at least once. Read it, listen to it on Audiobooks, all I ask is that everyone hear the story of Paul, Tjaden and Katczinsky and their constant struggle to stay alive. “All Quiet on the Western Front” may be fiction, but it’s lessons are not.