Book Review: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front
by
Erich Maria Remarque

Rating:

On the cover of my copy of All Quiet on the Western Front, it also says “The Greatest War Novel of All Time.” I don’t know if I’ve read enough war novels to be an expert, but I can tell you it is one of the most powerful and moving books I’ve read.

German trench warfare. Image: Wikipedia

This is the story of World War I trench warfare and of Paul Baumer, a nineteen-year-old German soldier who has enlisted in the army. He and his schoolmates joined up at the recommendation of their schoolmaster and in short time must face the reality of a ruthless war. The novel mostly takes place on the front, where Paul and his comrades are fired upon and shelled and do the same to their French enemies in what becomes one of the most famous stalemates in history. Paul narrates his experiences and the deep bonds he develops with the men in his platoon, including the already close friendships with his boyhood friends and Albert Kropp, their superior.

One of the most intense times occurs after a brutal period when Paul returns home on leave. He describes his feelings of severe disconnection in seeing his family, whose lives, although by no means easy, are in stark contrast to what he has experienced. His father wants to know all the war stories, but Paul refuses, knowing that if he spoke about them, they’d be out there and would torment him forever. His mother, sick with cancer, wants reassurance that it’s not too bad on the front. Paul knows they will never understand what he and the other soldiers have gone through and so he lies to her, heart breaking at the pain of it.

On the night before leaving home again, Paul lies in his room,

I bite into my pillow. I grasp the iron rods of my bed with my fists. I ought never to have come here. Out there I was indifferent and often hopeless—I will never be able to be so again. I was a soldier, and now I am nothing but an agony for myself, for my mother, for everything that is so comfortless and without end.

I highly recommend All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque was in combat during World War I and was wounded five times, the last time severely. You can read more about him on this Wikipedia link.

As you can see by the list below, there are many war novels out there and I have only read a fraction of them. Which ones have you read?

Great war novels, BCM links

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Read but not reviewed, Goodreads links

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Winds of War by Herman Wouk

Other war novels with Goodreads links

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Covenant with Death by John Harris
The Debacle by Émile Zola
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Empire of The Sun by J.G. Ballard
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
The Hunters by James Salter
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Regeneration by Pat Barker
Restless by William Boyd
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

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28 thoughts on “Book Review: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

  1. “All Quiet on the Western Front” was when it came out, a heartbreaker everybody read. It still is as you said a powerful account of WWI. I lived through WWII with the bombings of the cities and then the personal contact during the Russian invasion of the Eastern part of Germany. I had to be persuaded to write my experiences down, and the resulting book “We Don’t Talk About That” has been read in 90 countries. The reviews usually start with “…couldn’t put it down…” and go as far as “should be required reading in schools… and placed next to ‘Anne’s Diaries” and …is a social document.” Now, the world is shutting down with the Covid 19 virus, killing fend and foe alike. People hoard food afraid they would starve and don’t care if others get any. If you read my book, yes, you may need some kleenex, as my soul was screaming like Pauls in “All Quiet on the Western Front” when he couldn’t “talk about it.” You will learn how we survived without any resources and not even a roof over our heads.

    1. Hi George, so had I. It’s taken me a long time to get to it. My son had to read it for college, so we had a copy and I grabbed it last week. I definitely recommend. We will have a lot of time to read, I think…

  2. Never read AQOTWF, but the film was a classic. Wonder if they would consider The Iliad a war novel? Guess not, since Homer predated the concept of the novel.

    1. That’s a good question – I did some online research and the lists included other things, like plays, poetry and short fiction. I decided to just keep it to war novels. I read The Illiad a long time ago – is that in verse? I can’t remember.

  3. I agree, Barbara, it’s an incredible book. A number of years ago when war movies began becoming more realistic, I remember people commenting as to how they couldn’t believe how terrifying war was, and I would respond, “You mean, you never read All Quiet on the Western Front?”

    1. A perfect response. I thought the war descriptions were incredibly intense and terrifying. All I could think about was those poor boys – still teenagers, as is the case with most wars, although the thought of my own sons in combat at any age would terrify me. Thanks for stopping by, Karen.

  4. An absolutely stunning book – powerful and thought-provoking. A nice wide-ranging list there to choose from too. I’ve read less than 10 (if you include All Quiet) and there’s a few there I’ve picked to add to the ever-dangerously overloaded TBR list. Unusually, I’ve less time than usual to read – in between working from home, writing & blogging, I’m now maintaining daily contact to support my elderly mother & other friends who are living alone.

    1. Hi Deb – yes this book really had an impact on me. I have also read less than 10. Once I made this list I reallized how many war novels there are. I too have a long TBR, but there are some classics on the list I will try to read. I have also been working from home (social media for our library) and blogging and keeping in contact with friends and family. Such a strange time. Take care and thanks for reading and commenting.

    1. I need to read a few more. I read War and Peace my first year/semester in college. I had an excellent professor who led us through it. I’ll always remember that. Thanks for the visit, Derrick.

      1. I missed so many classics too. Luckily, I’ve been able to catch up on a good number as an adult, but I’m always being reminded of big gaps in my reading!

    1. I thought of you while I was reading it, Robbie, because of the war stories you have written and of yours and your mother’s book. It is intense but one of the best books I’ve read. Thanks for stopping by.

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