- 20th Century classic
- Classic in translation
- Author that is new to me
- Classic adapted into a movie or TV series
I have chosen however, to review this under the category of “Classic About War”. I knew very little about this book when I started reading it. The first surprise I had when I took it off the library shelf was how skinny it was. I was expecting it to be a much longer book, but in the end it took me under three days to finish it.
In Im Westen nichts Neues (literally: Nothing New on the Western Front) Erich Maria Remarque drew on his own experiences as a young German soldier in World War I to give an unvarnished account of life in the trenches, told through the eyes of Paul Bäumer. Bäumer tells readers that he was one of a class of 20 students who, before finishing school, were marched down to the local recruiting office by an overly-enthusiastic teacher to enlist en masse in the army. He shares his best and worst memories of basic training, fighting on the front lines, visits to casualty clearing stations and army hospitals, as well as the difficulties he faced when going home on leave. I was especially touched by a scene where Bäumer finds himself in a dugout with a dead French soldier, and reflects on the fact that both were just soldiers, following orders and trying to stay alive.
I probably don’t know enough about the underlying causes of the war, but knowing how it turned out, I did find myself conflicted at times. In reading this book though, I was reminded that often in war, the ordinary soldier is only following orders, and does not deserve the ire that is sometimes directed at them. Apparently some of the earliest German readers weren’t impressed with this message, as the Nazi party had copies of the book burned for being ‘a betrayal of the German front-line soldier’.
I found All Quiet on the Western Front to be an engaging read, although I read a more recent translation (by Brian Murdoch). It would be interesting to compare it with older translations to see if still I found it as enjoyable. Certainly I found it to be educational, and I can’t help but wonder why it took me so long to try it. I would say it is a must-read for anyone interested in 20th century history, and World War I in particular.