All quiet on the western front

by Remarque Erich Maria

Other authorsHarry Hansen (Introduction), John Groth (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1997

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

The Easton Press (1997), Edition: Limited Edition

Description

The testament of Paul Baumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I, illuminates the savagery and futility of war.

User reviews

LibraryThing member katiekrug
”The war has ruined us for everything.” (page 87)

I am a realist, both in everyday life and (as a former student of political science) in my thinking on international affairs, as well. So I don’t buy into the whole “If only our leaders knew what war was like, there would be no more war” argument. There will always be war, plain and simple, like it or not. And some wars are good and useful (yes, I said it). So with all that out in the open, all I can say with regards to All Quiet on the Western Front is “Wow.”

I’ve read other books about war (fiction and non-fiction), seen movies, talked with veterans, etc., etc., etc. But I have never experienced anything like this book. It is real and visceral and haunting and so beautiful. Remarque brings a poetic rhythm to his description of life in the trenches of World War I (the War to End All Wars – HA!). He writes movingly of the sense of loss, of comradeship, of universality amid the everyday horror and terror.

"At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life… they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades. I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness; I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.” (page 212)

The narrator, a 20-year old German soldier, leads us through life at war – the stretches of boredom punctuated by intense fear during an attack, the hunger and deprivation, the pain of bullets and shrapnel and gas, the reality of death and suffering, the discomfort and alienation at going home, the sense after a while, that the only place one will ever belong and feel right is at the front. Remarque is strongest when describing the narrator’s growing sense of futility and common cause with all the young men of his generation, whether friend or foe. The war connects them in ways no one else could understand though they may stand on opposite sides.

The novel is full of dichotomous passages that use beautiful prose to describe unspeakable things:

”No longer do we lie helpless, waiting on the scaffold, we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves, to save ourselves and to be revenged. We crouch behind every corner, behind every barrier of barbed wire, and hurl heaps of explosives at the feet of the advancing enemy before we run. The blast of the hand-grenades impinges powerfully on our arms and legs; crouching like cats we run on, overwhelmed by this wave that bears us along, that fills us with ferocity, turns us into thugs, into murderers, into God only knows what devils; this wave that multiplies our strength with fear and madness and greed of life, seeking and fighting for nothing but our deliverance.” (page 114)

An elegiac, haunting testament to the horror of war that deserves to be read, pondered and re-read even if it changes nothing.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
“Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades---words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.
Our faces are encrusted, our thoughts are devastated, we are weary to death; when the attack comes we shall have to strike many men with our fists to waken them and make them come with us---our eyes are burnt, our hands are torn, our knees bleed, our elbows are raw.” (Page 116)

Some books write their own reviews. This is one of them. This classic WWI story, told from the point of view of a young German soldier named Paul, tells the heartbreaking story of one man’s experience on the front. Raw, emotional, and heartbreaking, it’s quite possibly the best war story I’ve ever read. Quotable passages can be found on every page as the young soldier relates the grisliness of combat. Remarque chose to use static, short sentences to tell the story that is almost poetic in this brief novel. A somewhat autobiographical novel, he concentrated on the horrors of war and the soldier’s alienation from civilians in the book. When he gets a chance to go home on leave he writes:

“What is leave?----A pause that only makes everything after it so much worse. Already the sense of parting begins to intrude itself. My mother watches me silently;----I know she counts the days;----every morning she is sad. It is one day less. She has put away my pack, she does not want to be reminded by it.” (Page 155)

The stress and revulsion of being left in No Man’s Land with the first enemy that he has killed in hand-to-hand combat is almost too much for him:

“By noon I am groping on the outer limits of reason. Hunger devours me, I could almost weep for something to eat, I cannot struggle against it. Again and again I fetch water for the dying man and drink some myself.
This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing…But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me: Time and my thoughts.” (Page 189)

It is this agonizing thought process as he is at the front that makes this book so heartbreaking. It could only have been written by someone who had experienced war firsthand.

I continually found myself comparing this book with Vera Brittain’s autobiography, Testament of Youth, which I read earlier this year, and which searingly told the story of WWI from a Brit’s point of view. The soldiers in both books experienced the same horror. And both books showed the folly of war and why we should avoid it at all costs. Both are books about peace by demonstrating what makes war so horrifying. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
The tagline on the book cover reads: The Greatest War Novel of All Time. I think 'The Greatest Anti-war Novel of All Time' would be more accurate. After finishing this book, it's no wonder to me that the third Reich banned this book. War is not presented as something heroic or glorious or patriotic, but as something ugly, dehumanizing, and very, very bloody.

Paul Bäumer enlists with a group of classmates after hearing over and over again from his schoolmasters about how their duty is to fight in this glorious war for their country. But it doesn't take more than a day at the front for Paul and his friends to realize that glory is the last thing on their minds. All they think about is survival. And when they are deep in the trenches, it is kill or be killed, over and over and over again.

The violence is almost non-stop, and it is incredibly graphic. Nothing is tidied up. So the men who forget their gas masks on time, the horses who are shot and scream for hours before someone can get to them and kill them, the man suffering alone on the battlefield, gurgling and crying and moaning for days, the miserable death of a comrade after his leg is amputated and the efforts to secure his boots before someone else does - it is all here, and it gets hard to take.

There are a few brief respites. Paul often stops, at least when he can, to ask himself what will happen to them all when the war is over.

Albert expresses it: "The war has ruined us for everything."
He is right. We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war."

I had seen the movie, so I knew how the book ended, but the movie had to leave out much of the horror of the war. It captured very well the sense of isolation, the comradeship. But it's hard to make a war movie unless you make it violent.

I chose this book for book club, and I'm sure that some of the women will have found it too much to take. It is brutal. But there are exquisite parts in there, even some humor, and while I had to occasionally put the book down so I could breathe, it was a great book. So I recommend it, but with the caution that it is very strong stuff. And yet it is poetic at the same time. 5 stars
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LibraryThing member Cait86
I am not sure whether my humble writing skills can accurately reflect this masterpiece of a book. All Quiet on the Western Front is hideous, but hideous in a positive way. Books about war should not be sweet and cheery, but should realistically portray the horrors that man inflicts upon himself. Remarque spares the reader nothing - he hits us in the face with the gritty details of life in the trenches, waits for us to recover, and then hits us again. Never have I seen such honesty in a book.

You know when you watch an action movie, and all through the fight scenes or the chase scenes, your heart races? That is the reaction my body had while I was reading All Quiet on the Western Front. That's right: this book had the ability to evoke a physical reaction from me. This is a rarity for me - I generally do not cry while reading, nor do I laugh out loud. Reading tends to be an intellectual experience, not a physical one. Remarque's writing is just so honest, so blatant, that I could feel my heart pounding, my forehead breaking out in a sweat, and my stomach churning.

So, if this book had the power to cause my body to react in a negative way, then why should we read it? The answer - because war is around us every day, it forms huge parts of our past, it exists in our present, and that pattern can only lead us to believe that it will occur in our future. We should not hide from the destruction it brings; instead, we should learn from writers like Remarque, who had first-hand experience in World War I, and who strives to share it with others.

All Quiet on the Western Front is written from a German perspective, and one of its greatest lessons is that every soldier, whether German, French, Russian, Canadian, British, or American, is the same. No civilian ever really wants a war, and yet it is the civilian who fights. When the narrator, Paul, kills a French soldier, he has the ultimate realization:

"Why don't they keep on reminding us that you are all miserable wretches just like us, that your mothers worry themselves just as much as ours and that we're all just as scared of death, and that we die the same way and feel the same pain" (153).

All world leaders should read this book; in fact, all people should read this book. It is a vivid portrayal of the things we do to each other - and the regret that we feel.
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LibraryThing member baswood
[All Quiet on the Western Fron by Erich Maria Remarque
I am young, I am twenty years of age; but I know nothing of life except despair, death, fear, and the combination of completely mindless superficiality with an abyss of suffering. I see people being driven against one another, and silently, uncomprehendingly, foolishly, obediently and innocently killing one another. I see the best brains in the world inventing weapons and words to make the whole process that much more sophisticated and long lasting. And watching this with me are all my contemporaries, here and on the other side, all over the world - my whole generation is experiencing this with me. What would our fathers do if one day we rose up and confronted them, and called them to account? what do they expect from us when a time comes when there is no more war? For years our occupation has been killing - that was the first experience we had. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what can possibly become of us.

It has been said that All quiet on the Western Front is one of the finest anti-war books ever written and I can believe it. Paul (the hero of the novel) has volunteered along with all his class mates to join the German Army soon after the start of the first world war, they are marched down to the recruitment office by their school master in a blaze of patriotic fervour. When Paul writes the above paragraph he is recovering in a military hospital from shrapnel wounds, he has survived at or near the front line for three years, but most of his class mates are dead. He is now one of the veterans but all he can look forward to is a return to duty once he has been passed fit. He knows nothing else but the war, and a bit like the opening scene in the film Apocalypse Now: when he is at war he wants to be home, but when he is home he wants to be back at the front. He is speaking now for a generation of young men and this is the powerful message coming off the pages of this book along with a sense of complete dislocation. How can his generation survive the war? How can they survive after the war?. To make this point the readers are taken through the horrors of front line trench warfare.

Those horrors are brought to life by the reader seeing them through Paul’s eyes. Erich Maria Remarque chose to write his novel in the first person; he was himself conscripted into the German army at age 18 and was wounded in the arm and leg by shrapnel. Having seen action himself he was able to provide a first hand account of the horrors of fighting a modern war from the point of view of an infantryman on the ground, and he does not hold back. The deafening noise of the guns, the flying metal, the gas attacks, the field hospital are all vividly described along with the state of mind of young men put in impossible situations. For many of them death and probably an agonisingly slow death at that, was waiting for them just up ahead, but the war machine had done its job and they stuck to their task, there was nothing else to be done.

Paul has questions that cannot be answered, but this does not stop him thinking aloud to us the readers. Those questions still cannot be answered as we now know that the war to end all wars: didn’t do that. Paul carries on following orders, witnessing the horrors around him with only a sort of gallows humour camaraderie with his immediate group of friend to support him. I am pleased to have picked this book off my shelf to read, it makes sobering reading and I found it to be quick read. A short sharp shock while reading and lots to ponder about afterwards. An important book and a five star read.… (more)
LibraryThing member gbill
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is a standard in anti-war fiction, describing the horrors and idiocy of war from the perspective of an author who knew what the hell he was talking about. Remarque was a German veteran of World War I who at the age of 19 was wounded severely in combat along the Western Front. What sets this book apart is his insight into the psychological damage done to the young soldiers - the disillusionment, extreme stress, and social detachment, which I like to think of as the war within. This book is emblematic of the “lost generation”, the one that came of age during WWI, and its truth and message was so compelling that the Nazis banned and publicly burned the book as they geared up their war machine for WWII.

Perhaps the entire book can be summarized by this quote towards the end, which I love:

“And this is only one hospital, one single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must all be lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.
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. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me.”

But here are some others as well:
On bravery:
“There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Joseph Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one’s parents were ready with the word ‘coward’; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for. The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy.”

On disillusionment:
“And that is why they let us down so badly.
For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress – to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs.

We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.”

On education:
“’What is meant by Cohesion?’
We remember mighty little of all that rubbish. Anyway, it has never been the slightest use to us. At school nobody ever taught us how to light a cigarette in a storm of rain, nor how a fire could be made with wet wood – nor that it is best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn’t get jammed, as it does in the ribs.”

On war:
“Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.”

“He wants me to tell him about the front; he is curious in a way that I find stupid and distressing; I no longer have any real contact with him. There is nothing he likes more than just hearing about it. I realize he does not know that a man cannot talk of such things; I would do it willingly, but it is too dangerous for me to put these things into words. I am afraid they might then become gigantic and I be no longer able to master them. What would become of us if everything that happens out there were quite clear to us?”

“’But what I would like to know,’ says Albert, ‘is whether there would not have been a war if the Kaiser had said No.’
‘I’m sure there would,’ I interject, ‘he was against it from the first.’
‘Well, if not him alone, then perhaps if twenty or thirty people in the world had said No.’
‘That’s probable,’ I agree, ‘but they damned well said Yes.’
‘It’s queer, when one thinks about it,’ goes on Kropp, ‘we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?’
‘Perhaps both,’ say I without believing it.”

“And every full-grown emperor requires at least one war, otherwise he would not become famous. You look in your school books.”
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LibraryThing member DetailMuse
…monotonously falls the rain. It falls on our heads and on the heads of the dead up in the line, on the body of the little recruit with the wound that is so much too big for his hip; it falls on Kemmerich’s grave; it falls in our hearts.

At school nobody ever taught us how to light a cigarette in a storm of rain, nor how a fire could be made with wet wood -- nor that it is best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn’t get jammed, as it does in the ribs.

{About guarding Russian prisoners-of-war:} A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends. {…} I take out my cigarettes, break each one in half and give them to the Russians. They bow to me and then light the cigarettes. Now red points glow in every face. They comfort me; it looks as though there were little windows in dark village cottages saying that behind them are rooms full of peace.


This classic (anti-)war novel is narrated by 19-year-old Paul Baumer, a German soldier serving in the trenches near the front during WWI. It’s brutal, thoughtful and illustrative not only regarding battle and the dead but how the living are forever changed.

I can envision where it inspired other war novels -- that first quote above reminds me of the opening of The Things They Carried -- and while Catch-22 remains my favorite (hilarious, heartbreaking, imaginative, complex), this is outstanding and so much more accessible. Recommended for everyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member EBT1002
"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. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me."

This is a summary of Paul Bäumer's experience of war. This comes near the end of this exquisite and brutal novel of trench warfare during WWI and it illustrates Remarque's and translator A.W. Wheen's approach to the use of language. Straightforward but with layers, the anger (and other emotions) seething just below the surface of the narrative. Remarque describes what Paul sees, what he feels, what he hears, all so compellingly that the reader is transported into the trenches. We walk along the roads to abandoned and destroyed villages, and we witness the random deaths and agonizing injuries. It's all so sensual.

Certainly this novel is intended to expose the horrors and senselessness of war. The soldiers' terror, horror, rage, despair, and numbness come through with gut-wrenching power. But their love for one another is beautifully wrought, as well, and without sentimentality:

"We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don't talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have."

There really isn't much I can write about this classic German novel. It must speak for itself. It is beautiful, painful, and well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member rainpebble
(SPOILER)

"He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.
He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come."
__________________________________________________​

The "beauty" of a war story is an intriguing thought, but I can think of no other word with which to describe this book than beautiful. Remarque has written a book of the horrors of WWI told through the eyes of an innocent young German soldier and he has written it with such a simplicity that it is overpowering in the beauty of the language.
We owe the translator a huge debt as well, for the translation can make or break a book and this is a wonderful book, deserving of all the accolades it has received.
It is the story of several young men from the same village who enter the service and the war at the same time. It tells of the horrors of the smallest nature as well as the hugely horrifying events of this war. It also tells of the remarkable little things that put smiles on the faces of these young men and gave them hope for another day.
There are many books written about The Big War but I can only think of one after reading All Quiet on the Western Front. If you have not read this book, please do so. You will be giving yourself a wonderful gift. I highly recommend it and gave it 5 stars
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LibraryThing member mcrombie
Reading “All Quiet on the Western front” completely changed my view on not just World War 1, but war all together. The author was able to describe the carnage of warfare with great detail. As I read the book I began to feel the loneliness, pain, and depression the soldiers felt while fighting the war. Even when the main character was given a 17 day vacation where he returned home to his family I still got the same feeling of hopelessness I got from when they were fighting on the front.
Overtime all of the main characters friends slowly died off and as the book went on it gave off more of a depressing feeling. Even though the book made me depressed and fearful about war it was still a surprisingly good book. It took me a long time to really get into reading the novel, but when I began to understand what was happening it became a lot more fun to read.
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LibraryThing member jeff.maynes
One of the great strengths of All Quiet on the Western Front is its bluntness. It describes life as a German soldier serving in World War I in frank and unyielding terms. War is hell, as the saying goes, and Remarque does not shy away from it. It's an affecting book for it. What's more, is that Remarque is blunt about the soldier's life, including the mundane details (from food, to sex, to bowel movements). He does not fall into the trap of simply portraying the hell of combat, but he provides a powerful and well-rounded picture of the war experience. It's worth reading for that alone.

Many war novels, however, share this strength. Indeed, Remarque's influence is felt in war novels of all stripes, which do not shy away from blunt description of the horrors of war. It is the novel's other strengths which make it a compelling read, even for the modern reader who is familiar with this mode of description for war and combat. What Remarque does so well is that he not only captures the externalities of war, but the internal consequences to, what it does to the life of a soldier. This theme runs through both All Quiet on the Western Front, and its even better sequel, The Road Back. Remarque is not only interested in how a soldier copes with the situation he finds himself in, but how he fits into the society he defends.

One way in which Remarque expertly develops this theme is through the narration of Paul, the main character. On one hand, Paul gives us a frank and honest description of what happens to him and his fiends. On the other, he is an insightful commentator. He not only describes what is happening to him, but he understands it. It reads as if he were writing a letter to all those at home, trying to help them understand what this war is like, and what war does to people, but also to cope with it himself. His observations are keen, and help us to understand how war affects the people who fight it, including those who survive it. The final passages of the novel, where Paul finally comes to terms with the inescapable death that looms over the battlefield, is among the most powerful in the novel. It is cliche to point out that "war is hell," but those of us who are fortunate enough to have never experienced it firsthand can probably never really understand the force behind these words. When given only a description of brutality, it confirms the truth of the cliche. Yet, when given Remarque's insight into the experience of serving, and suffering in that hell, we can, at least in the smallest part, understand it. It brings it home, and covers the distance we put between our comfortable armchairs and the horror of what we read.

The most powerful passage in this respect occurs late in the book, when Paul finds himself in a crater with an enemy he has just stabbed. In the prior chapters, Paul has found himself out of place with his family and with normal life, and he reminds us that he is at home with his fellows who serve. It is only in the context of war that he can feel that he is in his rightful place. It seems to be a sort of shield, part of the coping with conflict that he needs to do to stay sane and sharp. When he is alone, out in the middle of the battlefield, stranded in this crater with a dying man, he lacks that buffer and that protection. His guilt is palpable, as he apologizes to the dying man, tries to save him, and ultimately looks into his past. It is a moment when everything that he has built up in the novel, all of his knowledge of the different shells that fly past, of how to obtain and protect food, is stripped away and he has to come to grips with the up close and personal horror of not only death, but his own role in it. One cannot put the novel down during these scenes, and I suspect that it is an image which will linger with me long after I've moved on to other novels.
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LibraryThing member Ayling
All the way throughout school, they never told us to read this book. Perhaps if they had, we'd have been given a better education about WW1 and what life was like in the trenches.Every school pupil should read this in history class rather then waste time scribbling meaningless lesson notes into exercise books. The English translation at least is beautiful, graceful - it does not need to go into girsly detail - but the horrors of trench warfare are more real and more terrible in this book then in any war film. When I read this book, I became the narrator for a while and I shared his feelings. You will get more from this book, then in every gritty, grisly, muddy war flick filmed. It isn't a story of courage or men being heroes. It is a very real and human story - showing what it really must have been like.You can't walk away from this book unaffected though. It digs its way down under your skin. When I finished it, I felt so alone, so empty and sad - in a way that I will never forget. This book shouldn't be read to gain a better understanding about German history, it is human story - not a war story, or a history story. The main character could be English, German, French, anyone - the story, the feelings would probably still apply.… (more)
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
Quite simply the most horrifying and moving account of life in the trenches of World War I that i have ever read. Underlines the fact that War is Hell whichever side you are on.
LibraryThing member DHBarry
I've returned to an old classic this week. Erich Maria Remarque's novel on World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front.

I've read this book before, but it was many years ago. Long before there was such a thing as Google. It never occurred to me, back then, to be curious about the author. But this time I let my fingers do the walking on the World Wide Web.

Remarque served as a conscript in the German army at age 18. In July of 1917, shortly after his 19th birthday, he was badly wounded by shrapnel. He spent the remainder of the war in an army hospital in Germany. His experiences in the trenches convinced him that war solved none of the world's problems, and he became a militant pacifist.

He knocked around for a bit after that, trying his hand at various literary projects. This book was not his first. He wrote it in 1927, but wasn't able to get it published until 1929. In 1931 he left Germany for Switzerland, deeply opposed to the aggressive nationalism pervading Germany, and in 1933 the Nazi party banned his work. He was declared an enemy of the state by Joseph Goebbels. Unable to do much but say harsh things about him in the press, the Nazis instead persecuted his family, executing his sister on trumped-up charges in 1943.

Remarque never returned to Germany. He left Switzerland for the United States in 1939, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1947. In 1949 he returned to Switzerland, where he stayed for the remainder of his life, writing books and screenplays.

All Quiet on the Western Front is neither his first work nor his last. It is not even his most financially successful novel, but it is the one that he is best-known for. I believe that this can be attributed in large part to the themes he explores in the book. This book isn't just another war story. Battle scenes are plenty, but they are not glorified. They are instead full of terror and gore and hunger and exhaustion. Remarque portrays the evolution of a soldier in intensive combat situations, from a young man with hopes and dreams and an idealistic outlook, to an old man in a young man's skin with no hopes or dreams and a vast sense of isolation. Remarque describes the fall into despair and loss that young soldiers in combat experience, and the difficulty they have in readjusting to civilian life. These are issues that soldiers the world over have been dealing with since time immemorial, from the Roman legionnaire fighting the Gaul in 53 BC to the US Army Ranger fighting the Taliban in 2011, and that is why the book remains topical even today.

Have you ever read a book as a youngster, and then again may years later, after decades have passed? Not surprisingly, its almost as if you're reading an entirely different book.

When I first read All Quiet on the Western Front, as I remember it, I quite enjoyed the book, but there were parts of it that I had only an abstract understanding of. At twelve, I had no memory of living anywhere but foreign lands. I'd seen the aftermath of war and violence, and witnessed more than one example of religious extremism. While my perception of the world at that time in my life was not as callow as that of most of my generation, I was a child still, and had no frame of reference with which to put these things into the proper perspective. As a result, it was almost as though I was watching a movie; one a child of such tender years certainly should not have seen, perhaps resulting in a few restless nights, but of no lasting consequence. My psyche was not irretrievably scarred.

Now, three decades later, on my second reading of this book, I realize that, while those and other experiences did no damage that could not be undone, they made a lasting and indelible impression, and it is the more subtle and emotive passages of Remarque's that evoke the most visceral reaction, scenes that had little effect on my twelve-year-old self.

"This is good, I like it. But I cannot get on with the people. My mother is the only one who asks no questions. Not so my father. He wants me to tell him about the front... I realise he does not know that a man cannot talk of such things; I would do it willingly, but it is too dangerous for me to put these things into words. I am afraid they might then become gigantic and I be no longer able to master them."

For my part, upon my return home from my own trial by fire, neither of my parents asked any questions. My father because he already knew the answers, having gone through his own, and my mother because she instinctively understood the danger of giving such things voice. Even worse than the questions, however (for while my folks were wise enough to refrain, most others were not), was the sense of isolation, of dislocation. As Remarque puts it,

"A terrible feeling of foreignness suddenly rises up in me. I cannot find my way back, I am shut out though I entreat earnestly and put forth all my strength."

There is one particular scene in the book that I had forgotten, and because of this my reaction to it caught me all the more by surprise.

"I talk and must talk. So I speak to him and say to him: 'Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony...' "

In war, I fought an enemy I did not hate. It was necessary, for his leaders were evil men and had to be stopped. But had they not put him in my path, I would have caused him no harm, for often the citizens of another State are much like those of ours, even if their leaders be men of greed, corruption, and inhumanity. This is a truth I learned as a child, saw reinforced as an adult, and carry with me still.

I reread this book out of nostalgia more than anything else, remembering the enjoyment I derived from it in my youth. I probably will not read it again, for the memories it stirred up are disquieting and better left in the dimmer recesses. But I'm glad to have read it for the second time. I feel as though I did the author more justice this time.
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LibraryThing member santhony
Surprisingly, this is one of the few novels concerning World War I that I have found worth reading. It is widely acclaimed as "The Greatest War Novel of all Time." It may seem trite in this day and time to label a novel as "anti-war". However, this novel was written in the years immediately after World War I, a time when in many circles, war was deemed to be a glorious endeavor and romanticized, especially by those non-particpants with little actual knowledge of events on "the front". While the American Civil War should have opened the eyes of potential combatants to the certainty of mass carnage presented by new technology coupled with classic military theory and technique, the European powers nevertheless stumbled blindly into the abyss.

This is a VERY short novel, verging on novella. While it comes in at 295 pages, they are small pages with large type and wide spacing. It can easily be read in a single afternoon. As such, there is very little story development, apart from numerous vignettes involving Paul Baumer, a young German private, and his compatriots in the trenches. Again, the prose, while somewhat mild in current times, would have been shocking to the readers of the day. An example:

Haie Westhus drags off with a great wound in his back through which the
lung pulses at every breath.... We see men living with their skulls blown open;
we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their
splintered stumps into the next shell hole; a lance corporal crawls a mile and
a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the
dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we see men
without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we fid one man who has held the
artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to bleed to death.

Such things just were not discussed in polite company. It's all here: the blood and guts; the horrifying injuries, amputations and pre-antiseptic gangrene; the rats; the putrifying and spoiled food which was eaten anyway by starving troops; the dysentery; the ignorance of the German people who cling to the ideal of glorious warfare. But through it all shines the humanity of Paul and his childhood friends, as they succomb one by one.

After several succeeding wars, many of which became unpopular, and hundreds of books and movies which spotlight the actual conditions faced by front line troops, this novel has lost much of its originality and shock power. Though it must be said, it was the first and it remains powerful even to this day.
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LibraryThing member SharonGoforth
Imagine being young, only 18 years old (under the legal drinking age in the US), with your whole life ahead of you. Perhaps you have just started college. You have only begun your adult life. Everyone around you - parents, teachers, politicians - want (no, demand) you enlist in the armed forces. For the good of the country, they tell you. If you do not, you appear to be unpatriotic and considered a coward. You sign up with your friends. Off to basic training for weeks of unpleasant and seemingly unnecessary duties. Then suddenly you are on a train to the front, to the war, to unimaginable horrors that no one warned you about and you to which you should never have to be exposed. How do you live? More importantly, how do you survive? And if you do survive, then how do you cope?
These are the circumstances in which Paul Baummer, Remarque's protagonist, finds himself. Baummer is the narrator and tells his story in first person. He shares his wartime experiences as they happen, as though he were keeping a journal. Dialog is at a minimum. His friends are characters in the story, but mostly serve as examples to get his point of view across. I did not find myself warming up to them that much, as little information was given about them (with the exception of his best friend, Katczinsky) and I was too busy trying to absorb what was happening. The antagonist of the story, and the most developed character (even more than Baummer), was the death and destruction of war itself. Baummer recalls it in chilling detail. He has outbursts of anger and grief, but mostly he talks about it in exhausted resignation, which is even scarier.
About halfway through the book, Baummer is given the opportunity to go home on leave. Here we see him trying to readjust to a semblance of civilian life, without much success. He is lost - he doesn't feel he belongs anywhere. He doesn't know what to expect or how to act.
The last third of the book focuses on the hospitals and the type of care the soldiers did or did not receive. It is only one step above the battlefield.
Remarque, through Baummer, is the voice of soldiers. He says what they can only say to each other and puts it in terms civilians can understand. This book should be required reading for everyone, especially politicians. Would they read it? Probably not - they are too busy plotting and carrying out war.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Throughout All Quiet on the Western Front there is the theme of a lost innocence. Soldiers as young as 18 or 19 reflect on a childhood lost. The main character of Paul Baumer is constantly thinking about how, if he were to survive the war, he could never relate to the peacetime world around him. He scoffs at the word "peace." I saw All Quiet as a commentary on survival in its purest form. Doing anything and everything you can to live another day. When one soldier is obviously on death's door another wants his boots and starts planning a strategy to get them...even before the dying man has drawn his last breath. This is not callousness personified. This is survival. He knows the boots are of no use to the dying soldier. They would be to him, if only he could get them before someone else does. Ironically, the boots are later passed along to Paul eventually.
Another aspect of Remarque's work that bears mentioning is the detail he pays to describing death. While the images are unforgiving, violent and grotesque, it is war in its truest state and at its worst. Some of the images that stuck with me: a butterfly flitting around a field of dead men and finally settling to rest on the teeth of a corpse; a screaming horse that can't be put out of his misery because he will reveal the hiding place of the soldiers.
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LibraryThing member KimberlyJSmith
My 10th grade son asked if I'd read this book and with a bit of hesitancy, I picked it up and could not put it down. It's such a humanizing story. I loved it - a true classic.
LibraryThing member Piratenin
This is an incredibly powerful book. I think often that the German side of WWI is forgotten or dismissed. This tragic tale really highlights that there was no difference in the soldiers fighting on either side, that they all suffered and died in the trenches in a senseless war. Although the events throughout the book are upsetting and at times horrific they are handled magnificently. It was a difficult book to read at times but always beautifully written. The difficulty of soldiers readjusting to civilian life, something that was never really addressed at the time, is demonstrated beautifully during Paul's time on leave, where there is no one to understand the horror that he has been through. An incredible book and very powerful. I definitely recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member choco12kitty
I had to read this book for English class and it was one of the best we've read so far. If you're not ready to face the gory details of war then you shouldn't read this. Remarque writes from his heart felt feelings in All Quiet, there is no sparing but only the truth. My class found that the introduction to the book wasn't partly true because it does seem likes Remarque is making an accusation. The ending felt a little rushed, like he just wanted to hurry and finish writing, but that is overshadowed by the rest of the novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member TadAD
Without reading them, I'm sure that the hundreds of other reviews of this book have said most of what there is to say: Remarque's writing is stunningly evocative of terror, pain, camaraderie, boredom and incomprehension. It's not hard to see some basis for why this book is sometimes called the greatest war novel written. This soon after reading it, I can't say if I'd give it that accolade but it's certainly in the short list of those I've read in that category.

As I read it, two other books kept coming to mind. The first was Tuchman's The Guns of August, one of my favorite non-fiction books about World War I. I couldn't stop thinking about how sanitary the Causes of the war seem in Guns' view from the altitude of nations and armies, when compared to the blood and pus of the Effects in All Quiet's look at the individual soldier.

The second was Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls: its concept of "the good war" versus this book's "no war is good," a philosophical divide that would make—probably has made—for many interesting book club debates.

A must-read.
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LibraryThing member juliecracchiolo
Eighteen-year-old Erich Paul Remark was draft into the German Army to fight in World War I. He was sent to the Western Front in July 1917. There he experienced the horrors of war, as did many thousands of other young men on both sides. On July 31 he was wounded (shrapnel in the left leg, right arm, neck) and sent to an Army hospital where he spent the rest of the war.
Afterward he became a teacher until he took a leave of absence in 1920 to begin a literary life. He changed his name to Erich Maria Remarque. Maria in honor of his mother and Remarque, the traditional German spelling of his name
In 1929, he published his third novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. In the novel, eighteen-year-old Paul Baumer is a young German soldier fighting in the trenches in France. Like the Southerners in Gone With the Wind, Paul and his buddies head for the front with glorious ideas of quickly over-running the French. Instead, they are horrified by the blood-drenched trenches, the constant shelling, the mud, and the general misery of life at the Front.
When Paul returns home on leave, he is disgusted by the inaccuracies that people have of the battle---much like the American troops endured during Vietnam.
I first read this novel over summer break as a teen. Considered the greatest war novel of all time, I have to concur. Remarque takes readers into the trenches with him and, through his eyes, readers can experience the tragedy of war. One of things that make it stand out is that the point of view is from a German solider.
Remarque probably suffered from shell shock, or PTSD, as we know it today. I believe that he wrote to try to exorcize the demons that haunted him. He wrote nine other novels, all concerning war, but All Quiet on the Western Front is the one for which he is most remembered.
6 out of 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
This is the single most important novel on World War I. The early film version is somewhat less accessible although it is generally better than the Richard Thomas version. The latter is more accessible especially for younger audiences.

The novel is first rate and features an impressive interactions between the main characters and the supporting players. Kat is the most memorable character.… (more)
LibraryThing member auntmarge64
What a beautiful book, full of humanity beset in every way on the front lines of World War I. If there is anyone who hasn't read this already, find the time and you'll be rewarded may times over by a narrator and a story which will live in your memory for years.
LibraryThing member amerynth
Several people recently said they couldn't believe I'd never read Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front", including my brother, who said it was one of his favorite books. So, I decided to pick it up and was glad I did.

The story follows a group of young German soldiers, including the narrator Paul Baumer, as they dodge shells, scrounge for food and try to find a scrap of humanity in a time when it has disappeared from the landscape.

The book is filled with haunting images that will stick with me some time. While reading this, I was reminded of two other great war novels -- "The Things They Carried" and "Johnny Got His Gun." All three of these books should really be required reading.
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