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on 30 August 2015
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

Brian Murdoch, the translator, has given us in his Afterword an excellent starting point for discussing this book. I refer to it as a ‘book’ because to call it a novel suggests something less horrific in terms of subject matter than what we find in All Quiet on the Western Front.

Brian Murdoch affirms that the key structure of the book is the contrast between terror and death set against the irrepressible ‘spark of life’. There is a secondary thematic idea in the novel, namely the opposition between youth and age as shown in the references to Kantorek, the boys’ teacher and to other older people Paul Baumer meets when on leave. They regard the soldiers as heroes who are sure to win. We are also shown the contrast between experienced older soldiers and the younger raw recruits at the front line.

These thematic points bring the book into focus as a novel as opposed to a documentary or historical account. Nevertheless it contains features of documentary in that its realism is so vivid. This is due, of course, to the fact that Remarque drew on his own experiences in the trenches. The horrors he describes give the book a strong degree of polemicism or implied denunciation of war itself. But the book’s novelistic qualities are further based round its varied characters, their qualities, idiosyncrasies, and actions, as in any novel.

It is also, of course a tragic novel on several levels: all the main characters die, almost all of terrible wounds and their after effects. The tragic features spread from the battlefield to the families at home and to the sacrifices forced on the population by hunger and the futility of the war itself. It is reflected, too, in the degradation of human relations as shown in the soldiers’ visit to the brothel in the village, though this is presented partly in terms of comic adventure.

One scene in particular encapsulates the ideas of futility, life and death, heroism that arises from fear, and pity. This is the scene that shows the one scene of hand-to-hand fighting when Paul, in his terror of death stabs one of ‘the others’ (we are deliberately not told directly of his nationality) and then tries to save his life, while the man dies a slow and agonising death in spite of these efforts. The near anonymity of the ‘others’ who are seldom referred to as enemies or by nationality, is another implied idea to show that the futility of war is not restricted to one side or the other.

Overall, this book, while making gripping, if depressing reading, is, nevertheless, virtually a ‘must read’ if we are to understand and ultimately abandon war.

R Barton 19th August 2015
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on 4 May 2014
Clever writing as it switches perspectives and moods. You read it at one level, but often there is a more subtle message behind the words. Just when you think that Paul and his friends are having some respite from the horrors of the trenches, you realise that actually it is superficial, and that underneath they are still desperately holding on to the hope that they will survive. He worries that he will not fit in to society when the war is over, because it seems that he has known nothing else, and often the best he can hope for is a good night's sleep. It doesn't have the level of graphic fighting content that a more modern book may have, but the book still conveys the horror of trench warfare in WW1. Its not the battles that count, its the effect on ordinary people forced to do whatever it takes to survive. It is not too long, and should be on everybody's reading list at school.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 April 2014
If you want to read what it was like in the first world war, this and Goodbye to All That are usually recommended. I have just read them both and, although this is fiction and the other is autobiography, all Quiet on the Western Front gives a better feel. It is full of what seems to be authentic detail and is a much more interesting read (though the Graves book is also good). It gives a good understanding of just how desolate the soldiers felt, how terribly they were changed by their experiences.

Even better, In my view, is The Ice-cream War by William Boyd (which I reviewed separately).
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on 29 January 2012
Excellent book at an excellent price (used copy)
I Thought this book might be boring as it was written years ago but it comes across quite clearly that war is futile, often started by people who will never go and fight it but encourage the young to go and do the fighting.
Written from the German view of the war but that is irrelevant as the same points could be made which ever side you were on.
In one part there is a comment about killing people on the opposite side who if you met in different circumstances might well become your friends but here you are trying to kill them, with no choice in the matter, fail to do so and they will kill you, refuse to fight and be shot by your own side.
Everyone should read this book.

Unfortunately my first copy went astray in the post but a second copy was sent out quickly, very good service !!
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on 18 March 2017
An outstanding audiobook from Frank Muller of a book which describes the horror or the trenches.

After reading the book and listening to the disappointing BBC adaption CD.

I cannot find any criticism of this version and as with the book, I could not switch it off.
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on 23 March 2017
This was a great book, very well written and shows that the ordinary German soldier suffered as much as our own and were made to fight a war they knew little or nothing about. Harrowing
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on 29 May 2017
I read this after visiting the First World War battlefields and seeing the areas of The Somme and Ypres, the Western Front. I thought the book was superb, and it was interesting to hear the German experience: as miserable as the allies. They were all so young. The book is an easy read and well worth it.
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on 18 March 2017
A great read, and got my mind working overtime.
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on 17 June 2017
A brilliant read and my first book by Remarque. His excellent and passionate writing style made me feel as if I was alongside the schoolboys as they were thrust from a world of enlightenment to that of horror in the trenches.

The book highlights the consequences of war that are all too easily overlooked by those who aren't fighting it.
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on 14 April 2017
Quite simply superb !
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