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Customer Review

on 17 September 2011
Having read all 72 previous reviews there were one or two in which the reviewer stated that Remarques book in one way or another did its part to make WWII possible. Being a German born in 1966, with family members - as I found out later (not by being told but by asking unwelcomed questions) - being faithful followers of the impersonated evil during the 1930s and 1940s, in this country's darkest years, I'd like to give a comment and I hope my English is not failing me.

Remarque did not mean to write an anti-war book. As a matter of fact he called it "unpolitical". But the very first lines of the book, placed before the first chapter, do put things into perspective. Yet he still insisted that his novel was not written to convince people to oppose war for he said that "everybody is against going to war anyway." He later corrected this misconception of his. In an interview as late as 1963 he revised his original statement: (translated: "I always believed that everybody was against going to war - until I realized there were some folks who do want to go to war, particularly those who don't need to go themselves."

Remarque himself did not go to war in 1917 voluntarily. He only served in the trenches for a few months until he got wounded by shrapnel and got shot through the neck. He was sent to a military hospital where he listened to (and took notes of) the reports of other soldiers who had seen so much more of the war than he did. What he noted was what became the foundation of his book. And this book, although fictional, became what it is today. It has become an anti-war book by accident because it was received as such. Erich Maria Remarque had no intention of making his fellow Germans more peaceful or more aggressive. It was simply a damn good book that so many veterans could claim to be telling their story - on both sides.

If the truth - even a fictional truth - gets people to oppose the war, then this book is indeed an anti-war book, in its function albeit not in its intention. And to claim that the story told - a story which in its deepest sense is so very much humane, paved a literary way to the rise of the Nazis, is perhaps not ridiculous but at least evidence for a profound lack of historical knowledge. When that man came to power in 1933, one of the first things he ordered was the eradication of anti-war books from the shelves of German readers for he was determined to go to war in the foreseeable future. "Im Westen nichts Neues" was burnt at the stakes (NOT a metaphor), it went up in flames in good company with other great German writers from a more honourable time in German history. The Nazis hated it, for it portrayed the "enemy" as another human being - the same sorrows, same hopes, with families, too, and not really an idea of why this terrible war was fought for in the first place - an equal.

This book was published in 1929. Within the same year, it became translated into 26 foreign languages. By now, there exist translations in more than fifty foreign languages. By 2007 it had sold more than 20,000,000 times worldwide. There is a simple reason for that: It appeals to all humanity or rather to the large part that, as Remarque believed, "is against going to war anyway."

On a more personal note: Just six weeks ago I managed to acquire a copy from 1929 via Abebooks. The ad text read that it was in good condition, so I ordered it. It arrived just three days later. When I unwrapped the book I found that it did not look like the original. The first owner must have had it undergo a sort of special treatment. The original cover of cardboard had been replaced by a half leather cover with fine marbled paper. The original binding had been replaced with real gutters and it was in almost perfect condition. It had been "redone" to extend its originally calculated lifespan. The way it is now, it will survive another two hundred years and by doing so make a mockery of the "1000 years" that Adolf Hitler believed his Reich would prosper (after degrading all others peoples except the Germans that is).

This book will live.

Michael, Germany
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