The hair on my skin stands on end as I recall the story, the simplicity of the plot, and the lucidity of the author’s writing style makes it no easier for the reader to wrap his head around the concept of war. The novel is set in the backdrop of World War I as Germany fight. There is no happiness in this book, each haunting event ends only for the next to begin. Young soldiers, the likes of Paul, the protagonist, are transformed from innocent youths to barbaric monsters, slaying others without emotion, to live on. The book is testimony to the futility of war, the transformation of men according to their surroundings, and the fragility of life.
Erich Maria Remarque is a gifted author, for the book does not lose its intensity even in translation. There is one particular scene, when some men go on a harrowing mission to lay barbed wire at the front. Pounded by artillery, they hide in a graveyard, where the force of the shelling causes the buried corpses to emerge from their graves, as groups of living men fall dead around them. It is a naked dance of death, laid bare and brutal for all.
I shall not say much. You must read the book. It has one of the most heart-rending endings ever written. Nothing justifies war, nothing can sugar-coat it. When it ends, the newspaper simply reads “All Quiet on the Western Front”.
Quote (when Paul stabs a man instinctively and he dies a slow, painful death): Comrade, I did not want to kill you. .. . But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. . . I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?