ebook, 240 pages.
Read from October 14, 2019 to October 21, 2019.
I’ve always been fascinated with literature or poetry that’s set during WWI. While all wars have their own atrocities, there is something so raw and personal about WWI since it occurred before many of the modern technological war advances that we saw in WWII and beyond. Why it took me so long to read this novel, which could be considered the canon of WWI novels, I don’t know.
Erich Maria Remarque was conscripted into the German army November 1916 at 18 years of age where he served in a variety of areas including the Western Front, where the main outbreak of the war took place. For the publication of this novel, he changed his middle name to honour his mother and had previously published works under the name of Erich Remark (his family name had been changed to this by his grandfather in the 19th century). This novel was published in 1929 and alludes to Erich’s experiences of turmoil, distress, trauma, and detachment that he may have experienced, either first or second hand, while serving in WWI. Erich was injured by some shrapnel in late July 1917 where he spent the remainder of the war recovering from his wounds before being demobilised. While he may not have served long, he was able to take his own experiences as well as listen to the stories of many of the injured around him to create this novel.
This novel follows a young man named Paul, who like the author, is serving on the Western Front of WWI. The group of young men voluntarily sign up to join the war efforts without knowing what they were getting into. The camaraderie between the young men is strong and intense and the writing illuminates and does justice to these unique friendships. Paul loses many of his friends and company and the author spares no details in the grittiness of the war and the conditions that Paul and his company had to endure. This also includes the few breaks in which he was able to go back home for a short time and realising that he cannot connect to those around him anymore. Paul also reflects that the war, if he survives it, has robbed him and all the other men of his age of a future they can no longer envision.
Of all the scenes, there is one that stuck out and that I will never forget, and that is when Paul has to kill a man in very close combat. The scene is so visceral that I’m sure I was holding my breath when I read it. The scene was so well executed that it makes me wonder if the author himself experienced something similar during his time or if a fellow soldier left the same impression on him after a recounting.
Regardless of how involved the author was in the war himself, he took the time to gather experiences and wrote the novel that summed up a generation of soldiers and an unforgettably gruesome and personal war. This is a novel that should be a required read for generations to come so that the atrocities of WWI and the sacrifices that were made will never be forgotten.