Author: Erich Maria Remarque
Challenges: Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Modernism); Manly Reading Challenge
"I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow."
The top of my book cover claims All Quiet on the Western Front the greatest war novel of all time, which is a mighty declaration; however, while I have not read all war novels, of those I have, this one is gut wrenchingly effective and overwhelmingly poignant.
All Quiet on the Western Front is set during WWI, and the main character, Paul, is a young German soldier enticed by the promise of nationalism and heroism. Paul and other young soldiers like him grow up quickly, while they regretfully realize they were misled. They become no more than unthinking, unfeeling animals, forced to use animalistic instincts for survival, while making war on unknown enemies. Paul recognizes that their enemies are no different than them - young men ordered to fight someone else's battle.
Paul is a good young man, genuine and sensitive. He is truly lovable, which is rather odd to admit in the middle of a war novel; but it is true. He is a good son, a good brother, and a good friend. He is loyal and caring. In fact, many of the soldiers are portrayed as innocent and good, and this is what makes it difficult to imagine good characters in the center of such hardships and burdens.
All Quiet on the Western Front leaves nothing to the imagination. It is definitely a modern work of literature, with not much symbolism. It is well rooted in reality, as the author shares the ugly pictures of war, destruction, carnage, dying, and death. This may offend some readers. I totally understand. Altogether, this war novel is a journey of a soldier during war and the effects the war has on his life.
Something unexpected happens at the end of the novel, which I will leave out for those who want to read this book. I did not know the true ending until I turned the page a day later and saw the final paragraph. So if you have my copy (as pictured above), make sure you turn to the back of the final page to get the true ending. It changes everything.
"It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men."
|Young German Soldier, 1918|
"We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which...would be out of place here."War novels are not easy reads for me because the realities of war are uncomfortable. Why give up one's mental comforts and luxuries to have to imagine filthy, perilous, vulnerable conditions, unsettling hunger, all while facing death continuously? Why give yourself a stomachache? Why be confronted with the idea of loss? Why bother?
Well, surely you can skip war novels, if you please; read only happy, joyous stories, and sleep contentedly at night. You can. But I know why I read war novels every so often; I read them because they speak truthfully about life, man, and human nature in ways that we often times do not like to think about. War novels make me think of war differently. It certainly is easy to hate war, but that is not enough. They force me to remember soldiers, who normally are out of sight, out of mind. And they also cause me to think about the aftermath of war on the well being of a soldier. These are all complicated and delicate issues that war novels lay on my heart. And with a story like All Quiet on the Western Front, it is as if the author is asking us to think about war through the eyes, ears, and heart of a soldier. One may never look at a soldier the same again. I know I cannot.