Book of da Week: All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front
The brilliant All Quiet on the Western Front.

All Quiet on the Western Front, or Im Westen nichts Neues, as it is known in Deutschland, was written by German war veteran Erich Maria Remarque and published in 1929. Quite some time after the end of the First World War, then, but a necessary tome all the same. Make no mistake: this is a classic! We hope it’s on the school curriculum everywhere but, sadly, have to presume it’s Twilight or some such these days. Bah!

Im Westen nichts Neues translates as “In the west nothing new”, but the first English translation back in ’29 retitled it thusly, so we have the famous book and its famous title. Even though it’s not what the author intended, it has a certain impact we like.

All Quiet on the Western Front

The book’s clearly highly autobiographical and deals with a young soldier, Paul Bäumer, who has to endure the extreme mental and physical stresses of WWI. Whilst 18-year-olds these days head off to university to get drunk and steal traffic cones, Remarque’s generation were up against carnage. It makes for brutal reading as a result, but this is no gung-ho celebration of patriotic fervour.

The real tragedy is showcased in how Bäumer finds himself making friends, particularly with colleagues his age, only to find them soon annihilated. This is particularly heartbreaking later in the narrative, when Bäumer helps his wounded comrade to safety whilst feebly attempting to wring contact details from him for post-war communication. Sadly, lasting friendships aren’t really possible when shrapnel, explosions, and bullets are whizzing overhead 24/7.

This is a novel by a Humanist, and one who clearly points out the madness of warfare. It was a critical success and soon spawned a sequel, The Road Back (1930), and an Oscar-winning film the same year.

Unlike Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, which we recently covered, Nazi Germany banned and burned it during one of the regime’s numerous purges. This is presumably due to the book’s pacifistic leaning; whilst Hitler celebrated Jünger’s work, Remarque was exiled from Germany. He continued writing after WWII and died in 1970.

Naturally, since then, All Quiet on the Western front has become a much celebrated work. Alongside Storm of Steel we’d lay down the claim the two are are the essential texts for WW1 reading. Add it your collection then, madam or sir!

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