Thursday, December 20, 2007
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front is, in many senses, a novelization of author Erich Maria Remarque's experiences in World War I. The story concerns Paul Baumer, a volunteer infantryman, and his and his friends' experiences on the front, in battle, and on leave.
I was immediately leery because the book is written in the continuous present tense. This generally means disaster, but Remarque pulls it off astonishingly well. Indeed, the novel is better in the present tense than it would be in the past.
Depictions of war are graphic, brutal, and visceral. Remarque does an excellent job in drawing the reader into the world of the soldier. A prominent and key theme is how war changes these men, and what it does to them. The novel also underscores the fickleness of war – anyone can die, at any time, and the average soldier has nothing against the average soldier on the other side.
While the story may seem plotless at times, or as though it is moving in circles, as some have complained, the novel is short enough that it does not have a negative impact. And, again, the nature of a soldier in war is often so tedious and circular.
All Quiet on the Western Front is an anti-war novel, a fact which has received much attention. But how could such a frank and graphic depiction of war be anything but?