Review: All Quiet on the Western Front
My experience with literature about World War I prior to All Quiet on the Western Front was scant at best. I had heard of the brutality of trench warfare, of really any warfare, but I experienced it more deeply as I read Remarque’s famous work.
Paul and his classmates had been convinced of the glories of war by their teachers, mentors, and guides. And indeed,
For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture of progress- to the future.
But they find out all too soon they have been led astray as the gory, brutal, inhumanities of war crash in around them.
Paul wrestles with his humanity as he kills a Frenchman he is caught in a trench with. He tries to see a life beyond the trenches, but cannot.
I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another…What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over? … What will happen afterwards? What will come out of us?
All Quiet on the Western Front is one of those rare novels that hypnotically pulls you into the scenes and then forces you to face and to question what you have just seen. Often required reading for youth, I would add it should also be required reading for adults. If you’re going to add one classic to your summer reading lists, add this one.