Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”

I recently finished reading “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque. Although I am not normally a huge fan of war novels, this WWI story took my breath away. This narrative is both stunning and terrible and unhindered, lays out the realities of war.

My generation is far removed from war. We know what we see on television and what we read about in history books, but it is difficult to grasp the reality of wartimes with anything more than a basic surface understanding. Remarque’s writing cut through my knowledge of what it means to partake in war and recreated the picture that I hold of the first World War with simple, yet piercing imagery of war torn landscape and life, or what can be considered life, that exists in the trenches. He discusses the violent dismemberment of men with commonplace observation, the way I would describe the layout of my kitchen. His sketches of emotional turmoil, deadening, and desensitization to the horrors of daily life at the war front is both disturbing and touching. The clarity with which Remarque writes spoke to me from the perspective of the narrator, Paul Baumer. Baumer, the only survivor of his initial troop and his group of friends and schoolmates, exposes the harsh realities, and does so not seeking pity, but merely sharing the day-to-day existence as if writing a journal.

One of Remarque’s opening statements says it perfectly: “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.” Remarque’s novel shares the tale of stolen youth, of men, younger then myself, brought to fight for their country’s freedom and having their youth taken from them much too early. 

What touched me most about this novel is the ubiquitous nature of the narration. Baumer, although a German soldier, tells a story that is transferrable between soldiers from all nations. He is a character who is simply fighting for survival. It is life or death and he kills only to survive. 

This incredibly sad novel was a wonderful read. It should be a requirement that all people know of this story. It is an eye-opener to the realities of war and though it is fiction, does not hide the truth of the horror and despair that accompanies war. 

 

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