In these lines we will write about the pre-eminent anti-war novel of all time. All Quiet on the Western Front (“Im Westen nichts Neues”), by Erich Maria Remarque, that was published in late 1928 in the newspaper Vossische Zeitung and in early 1929 was published as a book. The German novelist was born in 1898 and at age 18 was recruited and fought on the Western Front. This book is his first novel and is considered as the most honest testimony of World War I.
Germany under Hitler saw this book as a threat to the foundations of nazi-fascist ideology and thus this book was burnt in pyre. In 1930 Lewis Milestone directed the movie adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, banned of course in Germany, and the author Erich Maria Remarque was considered an enemy of the state. Having passed through fire (literally) and iron, “All Quiet on the Western Front” eventually took the position that deserved, was translated into many languages and read by millions of people. In Greece was published by Zacharopoulos Publications translated by Kostas Thrakiotis, by Dorikos Publications translated by Stella Vourdoumpa, and recently by Lambrakis Press Group translated by Evangelos Antonaros.
As we have mentioned before, Erich Maria Remarque was recruited at 18, in 1916, and in June 1917 he was transferred to the Western Front. A month later, he was seriously injured by a bomb fragment and spent the rest of the war in a German hospital. The experiences of the war became the source of inspiration and the basis of this book.
Paul Boimer is the main hero and the narrator of the book. An eighteen year old student that decided to enroll in the army – like thousands other young people – after hearing the fiery speeches his teacher gave. From the classroom and teenage innocence, he found himself in the turbulence and suffering of war…
We look at his bed covering. His leg lies under a wire basket. The bed covering arches over it. I kick Müller on the shin, for he is just about to tell Kemmerich what the orderlies told us outside: that Kemmerich has lost his foot. The leg is amputated. He looks ghastly, yellow and wan. In his face there are already the strained lines that we know so well, we have seen them now hundreds of times. They are not so much lines as marks. Under the skin the life no longer pulses, it has already pressed out the boundaries of the body.
What all these innocent souls are doing in this hell hole? They are the fuel of an engine that others are using to server their own purposes, their own dreams, their own interests. And the most tragic? These kids are thrown in the war, many time voluntarily! Blinded by the inexperience of youth, the boiling of the blood or even false words of demagogues.
This book is the sage of a physical but, above all, mental and spiritual course. From the day Paul proudly shaved to present himself to the barracks, until now, three years later, that his own soul-mates are scattered to the winds of war, like so many others before them…
He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western
Do not expect to find pages of glory and honor in this masterpiece by Erich Maria Remarque. These are written by the historians of the future for people, like the author, who found themselves on the anvil of the battle. In a field where the players are the weapons, the hunger, the fear, the thirst, the head lice, the flu, the dysentery, the destruction, the annihilation, the death! You will find these and more hard and vivid scenes from the front lines and the rearguard, which sometimes are equally shocking.
Monotonously the lorries sway, monotonously come the calls, monotonously falls the rain. It falls on our heads and on the heads of the dead up in the line, on the body of the little recruit with the wound that is so much too big for his hip; it falls on Kemmerich’s grave; it falls in our hearts.
This is the dark, macabre truth of this war and of all wars of all time. Nothing brilliant, nothing honorable can be found when a man kills another man. And this is something that Erich Maria Remarque learned in the most painful way. We have the ability and the chance to take this knowledge, this diachronic message of the author, through this dramatic novel. Let’s not become fools. Find this book, read it – you and your children – discuss it and the next time you hear a warmongering fascist slogan, allow your mind to follow the necessary paths on its own!
The synopsis at the back of the book:
Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive.
“The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first trank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.”
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW