“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 shells, were destroyed by the war.”
What I thought as I read this book: ‘What took me so long to get to this book?’
The answer – it’s a war novel.
That makes no sense because I read – and really liked – Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
And Erich Maria Remarque has written a heartbreaking, unforgettable story of World War One, from the eyes of German soldier Paul Bäumer.
“But when we go bathing and strip, suddenly we have slender legs again and slight shoulders. We are no longer soldiers but little more than boys; no one would believe that we could carry packs. It is a strange moment when we stand naked; then we become civilians, and almost feel ourselves to be so. When bathing, Franz Kemmerich looked as slight and frail as a child. There he lies now – but why? The whole world ought to pass by this bed and say: ‘This is Franz Kemmerich, nineteen and a half years old, he doesn’t want to die. Let him not die!'”
There is little need for me to tell you about this book, for you have probably heard of it – or maybe read it in school. But if you, like me, have been hesitant to get hold of this book, let me tell you – go for it. It is a war novel, yes – and maybe for you that’s also a gulp, but it is a must-read. You cannot help but feel for these men – boys rather – as Remarque opens the book with discussions about food, a constant thought on their minds amid all the carnage and misery. And you feel all that wretchedness and agony. And as I type “wretchedness and agony”, I wonder if those are the right words to describe it, because that just doesn’t seem adequate. All the pain, all the suffering, all that fear, and those damn rats. How could anyone live through that? That is a huge part of Remarque’s tale, how these men-boys emerge from this experience, this incredibly traumatic experience, back into the world again.
“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.”
Title: All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues)
By Erich Maria Remarque
Translated from the German by A.W. Wheen
First published in 1929
This is my first read for the War Through the Generations Challenge
I was curious to see what else Remarque has written, and just in case you are too:
(1920) Die Traumbude. Ein Künstlerroman; English translation: The Dream Room
(1928) Station am Horizont; English translation: Station at the Horizon
(1929) Im Westen nichts Neues; English translation: All Quiet on the Western Front
(1931) Der Weg zurück; English translation: The Road Back
(1936) Drei Kameraden; English translation: Three Comrades
(1939) Liebe deinen Nächsten; English translation: Flotsam
(1945) Arc de Triomphe; English translation: Arch of Triumph
(1952) Der Funke Leben; English translation: Spark of Life
(1954) Zeit zu leben und Zeit zu sterben; English translation: A Time to Love and a Time to Die
(1956) Der schwarze Obelisk; English translation: The Black Obelisk
(1961) Der Himmel kennt keine Günstlinge (serialized as Geborgtes Leben); English translation: Heaven Has No Favorites
(1962) Die Nacht von Lissabon; English translation: The Night in Lisbon
(1970) Das gelobte Land; English translation: The Promised Land
(1971) Schatten im Paradies; English translation: Shadows in Paradise
(1931) Der Feind; English translation: The Enemy (1930–1931); short stories
(1955) Der letzte Akt; English translation: The Last Act; screenplay
(1956) Die letzte Station; English translation: Full Circle (1974); play
(1988) Die Heimkehr des Enoch J. Jones; English translation: The Return of Enoch J. Jones; play
(1994) Ein militanter Pazifist; English translation: A Militant Pacifist; interviews and essays