All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

All Quite on the Western FrontI love surprises, and that I was upon reading the renowned All Quiet on the Western Front.  Remarque’s writing ability is so remarkable that I am astounded that my eyes have never before fallen upon his pages.  This is the type of book that could catapult a reluctant reader into a bibliophile.

We view WWI through the eyes of a newly enlisted 19-year old German soldier.  He and his fellow classmates have been urged by their schoolmaster to become soldiers and not embarrass their families by staying behind.  The brutal reality of war quickly transforms them as they battle on the front lines and wonder at their own naiveté.

The narrator, Paul Baumer, is a compassionate young man upon his initiation into the war who soon realizes he had no idea what he’d signed up for.  He faces brutal training exercises, witnesses uncountable casualties, fights off rats, scrambles for food, fights with defective guns and is treated by inept doctors.  He gains a lifetime of experience in such a short time, that the only thing he is sure of is the comradeship of his company, who are slowly dying off, one by one.

Katczinsky is the company’s father figure.  At age 40, he is still able to keep up with the younger men and is also quite resourceful.  When food is scarce, he manages to find some.  When clothing becomes threadbare, he shows up with new ones.  When the weather becomes bitterly cold, he finds warm blankets.  He and Paul form a tight bond that helps both men endure their situation.

A former postal worker, Himmelstoss is the bane of all the men in the Second company.  He is a small man hungry for power and employs cruel practices that humiliate and enrage the soldiers.  When he is sent to the front after a higher up witnesses his tyrannical behavior, his attitude quickly changes, however, his attempts to restore good will are far from reciprocated.

In what language to speak to Mr. Remarque, I am unsure, however, I know our conversation would be effluent and there’d be no awkward pauses here.  The trouble would be deciding what to discuss…his time in WWI, his work as a teacher, editor, writer, etc., his self-appointed exile from Germany, his sister’s execution…Okay, perhaps we’d start at the beginning and see where it would take us.

My rating for All Quite on the Western Front is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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