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Erich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front

March 6, 2008

28. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928)

Length: 297

Genre: Fiction; classic

Started: 03 March 2008
Finished: 06 March 2008

Summary: A novel from the point of view of Paul Bäumer, a young student who enlists to fight in the German army in World War I. He and his friends endure the agonies of trench warfare, constant aerial bombardment, lack of food, watching their friends die, all for a war they don’t particularly believe in for a cause they barely know about. Becoming soldiers strips them of their youth; they are old men before they turn 20, with the war destroying not only their bodies but also their souls, dreams, and hopes for the future – a future which most of them will not survive to see.

Review: This book gets used in a lot of high school literature curricula, with good reason – the language, although well written, is not particularly difficult, and its message, although still potent to older readers, would resonate the strongest with those closer in age and situation to Paul. However, reading it a decade after I last saw the inside of a high school English class felt a little strange, as though I should be underlining important passages that might be useful in my term paper. Reviewing books like this one is difficult for me – it’s a literary classic for good reason, and it certainly deserves to be read, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed reading it. It’s unsparingly brutal and unpleasant throughout most of it (as it should be), and while the “war is bad, mmmkay” tone comes off as being a little overdone by today’s standards, I can see how this book would have been phenomenally important and eye-opening in the period before we knew that we needed to put a “I” after the World War. The message and tone reminded me strongly of the TV miniseries Band of Brothers that came out fairly recently – different war, different “sides”, different media, but same emphasis on what war does to young men, both physically and psychologically. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Not particularly enjoyable, but not a particularly hard read, either, and definitely an important one. Worth picking up if you didn’t get it in high school.

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First Line: We are at rest five miles behind the front.

Vocab:

  • p. 22: “With our young, awakened eyes we saw that the classical conception of the Fatherland held by our teachers resolved itself here into a renunciation of personality such as one would not ask of the meanest servants – salutes, springing to attention, parade-marches, presenting arms, right wheel, left wheel, clicking the heels, insults, and a thousand pettifogging details.” – insignificant; petty.
    .
  • p. 33: “He roots among his supplies and offers me a fine piece of saveloy.” – a highly seasoned, dried sausage.
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