All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque


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Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. . . .

This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . .  if only he can come out of the war alive.

The latter half of 2018 has found me struggling to finish books. I have a stack of a dozen half-finished books sitting next to my bed; it has just been a rough reading year. So it may seem understandable that I was hesitant to cater to the overwhelming urge to reread All Quiet on the Western Front. I mean….I had all these other books that I needed to finish. And I didn’t even own All Quiet on the Western Front. Good thing I broke down and picked up a copy at my local used bookstore because All Quiet on the Western Front is the first book I have finished in months.

I love this book. 

I am a firm believer that you need to read specific things during certain times in your life. December 2018….I needed to read All Quiet on the Western Front. I was struggling folks because 2018 has been a year of necessary personal growth. I couldn’t read. I was stuck dealing with the typical stresses of the holiday season and having to deal with a significant amount of petty bullshit at work (I’m not even going to apologize for the language. It is what it is.) I was stuck in my own head desperately trying to identify my source of frustration. All Quiet on the Western Front brought me some much needed perspective. It starts:

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even through they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”

For those who don’t know….All Quiet of the Western Front is the fictional story of a German soldier, Paul Baumer, and his experiences on the Western Front during World War I. It was written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German man who fought in World War I. But it doesn’t matter that it is told from a German perspective because Paul’s experience (as I expect Remarque’s) is the same story told by other survivors of the Western Front be they German, British, Canadian, American, South African, Australian, New Zealander, Belgian, or French. It is a story of young men struggling to survive a life in mud filled trenches. Men covered in lice. Men gasping for breath as toxic gas rolled over shell holes filled with bloody water. Men desperate to go home only to struggle wth the banality of everything once back.  

Remarque’s writing style effortless pulls readers through the emotional waves experienced by Paul. The prose is long and complex with an air of casual indifference when Paul is relaxing with his mates behind the front line. He happily describes his free time killing lice, hunting for extra food, and discussing with his friends the great mysteries of life. The prose subtly shifts to a choppier style as they near the front line. You can not help but feel the dull worry that Paul forces himself to ignore. And then he is on the front, crouching the mud and cringing at the whistling sounds of the artillery. The prose loses all sense of order; just choppy thoughts making it through the chaos and on to the page. You sit there on the edge of your seat, anxiously clutching the book, and willing Paul and his mates to make it through this fight. Then the writing slowly shifts back, and it is all done so effortlessly!

I laughed…I cried..and more importantly, I took a step back an reevaluated all the things in life that were making me feel stressed. None of it really seemed that important anymore; not compared to what I had just read. 

READ IT. Just read it. And then go watch Peter Jackson’s documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. Take a moment to appreciate how these soldiers talk fondly of moments that us readers would find appalling. Their mindset, and that of Paul, helped me find the perspective I needed. To embrace the simplicity for as Paul says:

“I often sit with one of them in the little beer garden and try to explain to him that this is really the only thing: just to sit quietly, like this.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on All Quiet on the Western Front. Please share them here or on Instagram. And Happy New Year. 

Lindsay

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Second Quarter Update/Midyear Check-in

I have decided to do numbered quarterly updates instead of using the seasons. It’s just hard to call this a Spring Update when the heat index has been over 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) the last week. So here is my update for the second quarter of the year; these are the books I finished in April, May, and June.

TOTAL: 7

I struggled with my reading this quarter. I have stack of books about 15 deep that I started and just couldn’t get into to finish. I am going to blame this funk of trying to recover from surgery and the stress of changes at work. I’m hoping to double my number in the next quarter.

Mystery: 4

 

Nonfiction: 3

Reread: 1

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The best part of this quarter is that I really enjoyed everything I read. I am happy at the number of nonfiction books I sailed through and I hope to keep that nonfiction momentum going through the rest of the year. I am also hoping to at least double the number of books I read next quarter.

Mid-Year Goals Check-in

Total Books Read

Goal: 50       Current: 16

Nonfiction Books Read

Goal: 12      Current: 5

I’m already working on my TBR for the next quarter. Let me know what books you plan to read this summer!

Lindsay

The Forgotten 500

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II

by Gregory A Freeman

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In 1944 the OSS set out to recover more than 500 airmen trapped and sheltered for months by villagers behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. Classified for over half a century for political reasons, this is the full account of Operation Halyard, a story of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery.

I like historical nonfiction and I particularly enjoy aviation rescue stories (you may know this if you heard me gushing about Frozen in Time last year.) So of course I was going to read The Forgotten 500. This is the story of Operation Halyard, a World War II rescue of American airmen downed behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. I had never heard of this event and was immediately intrigued.

I have mixed feelings about The Forgotten 500. I enjoyed it. I had never heard of this event and the story has spurred me to learn more about the events occurring in Yugoslavia during World War II. To me this is the most important role of historical nonfiction; inspiring self education on new topics. With that said, I had a hard time finishing the book due excessive idealized sections of politics (a topic I find boring and tedious on a good day).

So lets start with the positive points. I enjoy the flow of the story. The Forgotten 500 is not presented chronologically, but starts with airmen landing in Yugoslavia and then jumps to events that eventually led to the Allied bombing of the county. It was engaging, and Freeman expertly guides his readers through the anxiety of surviving a jump from a downed bomber, the efforts of people trying to escape the country at the start of the war, and eventually the fantastic rescue of over 500 airmen. I even enjoyed Freeman’s brief history of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the development of Operation Halyard. The Forgotten 500 is full of personal accounts from survivors, both airmen and OSS agents. It provides a detailed account of a country and culture of which I know very little, and reminded me there is so much out there I have yet to learn.

Now for the negative points. I always read other reviews after finishing a story, especially when reading historical nonfiction. I like to see what other readers enjoy and don’t enjoy about each story and make it a point to address recurring comments. The negative reviews consistently claim The Forgotten 500 is full of historical inaccuracies. I can not substantiate or disprove these statements as I know very little about Yugoslavian history and had never heard of Operation Halyard before picking up the book. (Here there be SPOILERS) I will state Freeman provides a very one- sided view when it comes to Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic. He is presented as a saint, while Marshal Tito and his group of Partisans are presented in a much more negative light. Little information was given about Tito’s roll in saving American airmen; instead the story is focused on the group of over 500 harbored by Mihailovic supporters. And I was especially confused by a section claiming Partisan sympathizers in England’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) attempted to sabotage the rescue operation on numerous occasions. I need to learn more about these topics.

So do I recommend The Forgotten 500? Yes, but with the following caveat: do your own research. Historical nonfiction is a vital aspect of continual education and I find it imperative that we should always look for all sides of the story. Have you read The Forgotten 500? Let me know what you think!

Lindsay

Nonfiction November

November is here, and I am back from an untended, but needed hiatus. The holidays are upon us; the weather is finally starting to cool off, packages containing Christmas gift are already arriving, and my obsession with coffee is in full force. November normally finds me craving period mystery novels, especially those with spunky female detectives. So I was all prepared to read some Phryne Fisher and Murder on the Orient Express (to celebrate the movie coming out!). Then I watched A Book Olive’s announcement of Nonfiction November, and realized I had only read ONE book out of the FIVE listed as my 2017 goals.

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Luckily three of my goal books fit well with this year’s Nonfiction November challenges (they are all listed below). My goal is to read and review these four nonfiction novels, plus four detective stories this November. Lofty goals but enjoyable none the less.

 

Home: Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II

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Substance: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

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Love: Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography

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Scholarship: A Man on the Moon

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Are you participating in #NonfictionNovember2017? Please let me know what books you plan on reading this month, and you can look forward to new reviews on History and Mystery! Happy November everyone!

Lindsay