Genre: Historical Fiction
Content warnings: war, violence, death, gore
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: historical fiction and camaraderie
Had we gone into the trenches without this period of training most of us would certainly have gone mad. Only thus were we prepared for what awaited us. We did not break down, but adapted ourselves; our twenty years, which made many another thing so grievous, helped us in this. But by far the most important result was that it awakened in us a strong, practical sense of esprit de corps, which in the field developed into the finest thing that arose out of the war—comradeship.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is one of the (if not the only) best fictionalisations of World War I and trench warfare – this book is not for the faint of heart. I have always had an interest in both world wars but particularly in the first one as the second overshadows it. The phrase ‘all quiet on the Western Front’, which entered our mainstream consciousness and has become a modern saying, was also pioneered by this novel.
The novel follows the second company of German soldiers, who are convinced by their patriotic teacher to join the war effort. They all enter with optimistic attitudes towards the war effort; however, this quickly fades as the boys learn that war is not all sunshine and roses (spoiler: most of them do not come back alive). The reader gets first-hand experience of being on the Front with these boys, and particularly with Paul Bäumer, who is the main protagonist of the novel. His thoughts on his surroundings, his comrades dying and the fruitlessness of the conflict are the predominant subjects.
What I found most interesting about this novel was that these men were German, which I frequently forgot since Germans are generally portrayed as one-dimensional villains. However, All Quiet on the Western Front makes them feel like humans – just normal people caught up in a conflict where they have no idea what they are fighting for, and who consider the French and English their brothers and comrades. Paul brings this up constantly, which makes the conflict not just a distant historical event but a loss of life, the loss of a generation who were forever scarred by the brutal trench warfare that they were forced into.
The translation that I read was the Everyman's Library translation by Brian Murdoch.I am very picky with translations as I want to have the best experience and completely understand the author's intention. In that regard, this translation was fantastic. It lets the reader feel like they are there, and the vivid imagery is retained and not watered down. This novel is also based on the author’s first-hand experience of trench warfare, which makes it even more vivid and mortifying.
This is a must-read for anyone who is a history fan (like me) or is interested in World War I. This is the best way to grasp what these boys/men experienced. As of now, everything is quiet on the Western Front. 5 stars.