All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque


aqwf

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

Advertisements

All The Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

18143977

A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

I initially learned about All the Light We Cannot See from various Booktube reviewers. I was honestly hesitant to pick up the book because I wasn’t in the mood for a young adult story. I just figured it was YA because that is the predominant genre reviewed on Booktube. It turns out that All the Light We Cannot See is not YA (figured that out half way through the story) and that it was a fantastic book to take a chance on.

I loved how Doerr focused on sharing World War II from the point of view of two children. He did a fantastic job creating realistic, likable characters; each with their own fears, flaws, and strengths. Doerr masterfully weaves the stories of multiple characters through an intricate storyline, while still managing to provide realistic endings for all involved. All the Light We Cannot See touched on so many tough subjects, including love, sacrifice, personal conflict, intellectual passion, and the many small aspects of life during wartime. It is a story that makes a reader think, and even know, I still find myself contemplating the details of Werner’s role.

I felt the representations of the children were unique as Marie Lore is a young blind girl from a loving home in France and Werner a incredibly intelligent young man from a hard childhood existence in Germany. The way they processed the world around them, how they both struggled to survive, and the way their lives inexplicably come together like two trains on a head-on collision were just enthralling.

My only complaint would be the storyline involving the cursed stone. It wasn’t my favorite. I really can’t explain why because I loved the art history and natural science of the story, and I understand the stone could represent the desperate hope of those fighting to survive. Sadly, this plot line just didn’t draw me in as completely as the rest of the book.

With that said, All the Light We Cannot See is fantastically written. Doerr’s expert melding of different settings, characters, and times leaves you feeling as if you’re dancing through the story instead of bouncing from page to page. It is a wonderfully different story about the Second World War and great for readers of all ages!

Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? Let me know what you think! And Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Lindsay