‘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.’ A few minutes ago, I finished All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, and sat down immediately to begin a review—although now I’m not entirely sure where to start. This book is amazing; without doubt it is one of my absolute favorites.
World War I—German army. Paul Bäumer, a volunteer, tells of his war experience in the trenches. I would elaborate, but as a summary, that seems pretty fitting, and there’s really not much else I can say without spoiling the novel, so I’ll just stop there for now.
This book reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in no significant way other than the seemingly wandering course of the plot. There’s not a long-standing objective that the characters are striving to accomplish throughout the novel, nor an overbearing antagonist in wait of being overthrown—nothing like that, no, it’s just a story for the sake of being one. It reminds me of something an old relative would recount; there’s no real end-goal involved, but it’s worth listening to anyways. I like that about this book.
The pacing is spot on, as well—and every bit of the story is kept interesting and different. The author is consistently introducing new twists in both the scenes on the front-lines and those behind them. I enjoyed reading about the firefights, as sickening as they were, equally as much as the soldiers’ plight with rats captivated me (something I never thought I’d say). Of course, none of this would work without Remarque’s sharply compelling writing style. It’s nice because he doesn’t linger on unimportant things, and is adept at describing difficult situations very well with few words. The scenes elaborated on are wisely chosen, in addition.
The characters, I feel, are developed thoroughly and incredibly likeable. Especially Kat—the go-to man for impossible supplies and one of Paul’s most reliable comrades during the war. He has a level head and the ability to conjure up just about anything a soldier might need out of nearly nothing, which makes him a valuable asset to the group. I also liked Müller—his practical assessment of the boot predicament at the beginning was reasonable, if somewhat cold-hearted. It’s understood that his actions were not born of mal-intent. And of course there’s always Paul, our ever-present protagonist, through the eyes of whom everything seems more relatable.
Could we talk about the shockingly sadistic nature of a few of the men written into this novel? I would like to quote this paragraph, because it is sick, and just one example of the many eye-opening accounts of war from the book. “Then we hear the cry: ‘That’s found a billet!’ ‘Did you see how he leapt in the air?’ Sergeant Oellrich turns round proudly and scores his point. He heads the shooting list for to-day with three unquestionable hits (Remarque 228).”
All Quiet on the Western Front sports one of the most depressing endings I have ever read, although it is the perfect way to wrap up this particular novel. Awful as it is emotionally, in retrospect, there was no other plausible finish. The way it happened, it had to happen, and I respect the author deeply for pulling it off the way he did. A small footnote on the back of the last page—and to think I almost missed it.
In conclusion, All Quiet on the Western Front has become one of my favorite novels—of 5 stars I award it the full 5. I would highly suggest this book to practically anyone, regardless of whether or not you enjoy history. It’s really, really good. So there you have it—my opinion on what many critics say is ‘the greatest war novel of all time’.