All Quiet on the Western Front, written by German veteran and author Erich Maria Remarque, and published in 1929, has been described as the definitive novel of the First World War. It follows Paul, a nineteen-year-old German soldier fighting in France and is a haunting novel. Not only was it a gripping read, but the novel was also beautifully written. I would recommend this book to anybody, as an exploration not only of war, but of youth, friendship and survival.
Paul, along with the other boys from his class at school, was encouraged by their schoolteacher to join the war effort and become heroes. Throughout the course of the novel, Paul describes the battles that they fight, the losses their group experiences, the new soldiers that he meets and forms friendships with and other events that befall him during his time on the Western Front.
Unlike other war novels, the battles and events are not given a historical context. We do not know what years the events and battles are taking place in, we rarely know where the soldiers are stationed, and in between chapters and events, it is not clear how much, if any, time has passed between them. I liked this aspect to the book, as there was a real focus on Paul and his psychological journey through the war rather than his physical one. Very few times are we walked through Paul’s actions on the battlefield, and are more likely to be given an insight into his thoughts. However, when we did see him in battle, it was gripping and tense. The whole way through the novel, despite the chronology and time being ambiguous, I felt tense and really gripped by the story. The way that the story is told, in such a freely-flowing manner, means that you never know what will happen; whether a battle will end quickly with no significant events or whether tragedy will strike. Some battles lasted whole chapters and some were over within a few paragraphs.
Another aspect of the novel that I liked was that all of the characters were written in such a realistic way. The dialogue was completely believable and I could really imagine a group of young men having the conversations. One of the things that struck me the most when reading the novel was the fleeting nature of Paul’s relationships with the other soldiers – they enjoy a great comradeship, but at the same time, when one falls in battle or is sent away, he is quickly put out of mind. However, even if their friendships are not ‘normal’, the characters still felt well-developed. They all have their own characteristics, whether it be Kat who has a gift for finding needed objects, whether it be food or clothing, or Albert who questions the War, every character brings something new to the story, even if they are only present for a short while. I also felt like every scene between the characters touched on an important, or at least moving, issue, whether it is the scene where the soldiers risk their lives in a barrage of shooting to make themselves a luxurious dinner, or discuss what their plans are for after the war.
Overall, I would agree with the statement that All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the best war novels. Of the novels that I have read about the First World War, this has definitely moved me more than most and it is a book that I can imagine going back to and reading again in the future.