Admittedly there is little worth in reviewing one of the most well known novels concerning the First World War. But due it’s timeless quality its worth every good review it gets.
‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ follows the story of Paul, a 19 year old caught up by one of the most pivotal events in world history – the First World War. A young German that tells the reader of life in the trenches – a subject with endless literature.
For one trying to understand the events and battles of the war, this book is not the place to find it. For all its greatness it does lack historical accuracy, but that is not the aim of the novel. But in saying that, if one wanted to strip away the historical overviews of text books and complete histories, and instead understand the human emotions as thoughts of the war, then this book is perfect.
The chapters are short, but so hard hitting. Each holding its own meaning that stays with the reader long after the page is turned. We see life in the trenches, the mud, the artillery, the agony, the hunger and daily pain. We hear of the soldiers jokes, their fears, wishes and hopes. Their understanding that they are but cogs in the machine of war. The narrator himself does not just tell of the soldiers around him, but he follows the reader through his own sensitive emotions. A child in war, brutalised by the conflict that surrounds him and powerless to do anything other than to kill the ‘enemy’ – an act which to him is so senseless, yet he does so out of fear of suffering the same fate with which he must deal to others.
The novel does not tell the story of heroics, for in real war these stories are rare. Instead this novel tells the reader of the ordinary soldiers war. most studies have shown that during the great wars the majority of soldiers did whatever they could to avoid killing another human being. For societies raised from a young age that ‘thou shall not kill’, whilst there are of course exceptions, the majority do so only out of indoctrination and fear. But even then it is still unnatural. The narrator explains these emotions in fantastic detail.
It is a refreshing change to the overwhelming view that Adolf Hitler’s post war belief’s personified that of the entire country following 1918. Rather than feel regret and disdain for having been sent to fight strangers, Hitler instead focussed his rage on the supposed injustices following the German defeat. It is of no surprise that Hitler and the Nazis hated the anti-war view of this novel, as for them the trenches were the birthplace of what it meant to be a ‘True German’. This was a novel, among others, that was burned by the Nazis as they feared the power it possessed. They even went so far as to revoke the German citizenship of the author Eric Maria Remarque during the 1930’s.
Remarque’s novel is without hatred for the enemy. They are merely depicted as other human beings caught up in this mindless slaughter. The overwhelming feeling portrayed is that the First World War was pointless, an argument depicted perfectly in the novel where the narrator tells of a discussion he and his comrades enter concerning the reasons for the war. The last word of the argument from the character Tjaden, a seemingly simple yet strong willed individual, sums up the novel’s argument simply yet eloquently – When one soldier asserts that at least the war is not in Germany, Tjaden responds in full agreement “That’s true. But it would be better if there no war at all.” – it is hard to argue with such logic.
Written by Jonny Morris.