Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review - "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Marie Remarque

This book was first published in 1929, and by the time the German Nazis came to power in 1933, it became a banned book and printed copies were burned (the excuse being that it was a betrayal of the German front-line soldier). The author subsequently went to live in Switzerland and in 1938 was stripped of his German citizenship.

The novel is a heartrending account of trench warfare during the First World War told in first-person from the perspective of the narrator, a nineteen-year old German soldier who has just been drafted into the army along with several of his schoolmates. Throughout the story, the reader is let in on the narrator's intimate thoughts and emotions about the horrors of death and bodily wounds, the necessity of hardening of the senses for the sake of survival and sanity, the dependence on solidarity as a means of escape from constant agony of terror, and the futility of war itself. I loved the author's generous sprinkling of imagery in his descriptive prose.

".....our bodies are like thin membranes stretched over barely repressed madness, holding in what would otherwise be an unrestrained outburst of endless screams."

"Because one thing has become clear to me: you can cope with all the horror as long as you simply duck thinking about it - but it will kill you if you try to come to terms with it."

"We didn't break; we adapted. The fact that we were only twenty helped us to do that, even though it made other things so difficult. But most important of all, we developed a firm, practical feeling of solidarity, which grew, on the battlefield, into the best thing that the war produced - comradeship in arms."

"How pointless all human thoughts, words and deeds must be, if things like this are possible! Everything must have been fraudulent and pointless if thousands of years of civilization weren't even able to prevent this river of blood, couldn't stop these torture chambers existing in their hundreds of thousands. Only a military hospital can really show you what war is."

When I closed the book, I couldn't help asking the question: do we ever learn from history?

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