Prior to reading this book, I had seen both the 1930 movie version and the 1979 TV adaptation (starring Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine). Thus, I didn't feel inclined for many years to pick up this book and read it. Besides, I had read Thomas Crane's war novel, "The Red Badge of Courage" in high school and that sufficed for me in my understanding of war and its direct impact on the individual combatant.
But when I went to my local bookstore last Sunday, I found this book on a table, along with a lot of other "classic" novels for summer reading. It wasn't expensive and I thought to myself: 'Why not buy the book and read it? You might get something worthwhile from reading it.' So, without further ado, I took the plunge.
Immediately, I was struck by the imagery of conditions at the front as outlined by the main character, Paul Bäumer. From the first sentence, I was swept into that milieu. It was so stark and visceral. Paul and his band of brothers (with Stanislaus Katczinsky --- better known as "Kat" --- by virtue of his age, widely regarded as the father figure) are all battle-hardened veterans. He lays bare to the reader his changed feelings about the war, his soldierly existence which comes to be for him the crux of his life, and his attempts at contemplating life in a postwar world. Remarque seldom wastes words, creating with them vivid, lively, and earthy personages -- as well as quasi-onomatopoeic sensations.
The following citation aptly sums up the essence of this book, which stands in bold contrast to Ernst Jünger's First World War memoir, "[b:Storm of Steel|853509|Storm of Steel|Ernst Jünger|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309207153s/853509.jpg|232965]", which, though conveying much of the brutality of war, stresses also the concept of war as a purification rite for the proud, patriotic soldier-warrior.
"...For us young men of twenty everything is extraordinarily vague, for Kropp, Muller, Leer, and for me, for all of us whom Kantorek calls the 'Iron Youth.' All the older men are linked up with their previous life. They have wives, children, occupations, and interests, they have a background which is so strong that the war cannot obliterate it. We young men of twenty, however, have only our parents, and some, perhaps, a girl --- that is not much, for at our age the influence of parents is at its weakest and girls have not yet got a hold over us. Besides this there was little else --- some enthusiasm, a few hobbies, and our school. Beyond this our life did not extend. And of this nothing remains.
"Kantorek would say that we stood on the threshold of life. ... We had as yet taken no root. The war swept us away. For the others, the older men, it is but an interruption. They are able to think beyond it. We, however, have been gripped by it and do not know what the end will be. We know only that in some strange and melancholy way we have become a wasteland..."
Here is a book that succeeds in engaging the reader from the very beginning. No-one can be indifferent to this book after having read it. ("All Quiet on the Western Front" is that good. But as to its being touted as "the greatest war novel of all time", I don't know about that. I'm more partial to "[b:The Cruel Sea|183586|The Cruel Sea|Nicholas Monsarrat|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1172519411s/183586.jpg|1104357]", Hence, the 4 stars.)
At 297 pages, "All Quiet on the Western Front" is not a taxing book. But it is a book that will make the reader review and rethink his/her views on war and its effects on soldiers, their families, and society itself.