A part of me worries that, as time goes on, the novel is becoming little more than one of those titles on a student's summer reading list that's been put there for no reason other than that a teacher heard somewhere that it was "a classic," and that it'd give off the appearance of an enriching curriculum for their supervisors.
Having recently finished it, I can attest that it deserves so much more than that.
"Im Westen, nichts Neues" as it was titled in its original German publication, roughly translates to "There Is Nothing New to Report on the Western Front" in Brian O. Murdoch's translation. To me, this title carries an entirely different meaning, and one that avid readers looking to pick up the novel should consider. While "All Quiet on the Western Front" carries something of a poetic implication, one of peace and resolution, its original title gives off an air of hopelessness. There's nothing new to report. Everything's going exactly the same way it always has. And in that regard, it is nothing short of a tragedy that we've normalized it.
Erich Remarque seems to have been born with Orwell's gift of using words conservatively while evoking nothing short of the most powerful message possible from them. This becomes apparent, starting with the opening epigraph:
"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 though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war."
And just like that, in no more than two sentences (or one sentence, depending on the punctuation of the translator) the thesis statement of the novel is laid out for all to see. There will be no romantics to be found here. Bias will be avoided, and events will speak for themselves.
This passage is by no means an exception from the rest of the novel's style.
"We have lost all feeling for one another. We can hardly control ourselves when our glance lights on the form of some other man. We are insensible, dead men, who through some trick, some dreadful magic, are still able to run and to kill."
In many regards, this particular writing style seems to be unique to Remarque. Other war stories tend to linger on value claims, or attempts to persuade its reader one way or another. Remarque doesn't see the need to try. He simply writes as authentically as possible, and through that, lets the readers feel what he felt and see what he saw — if not just a little bit.
And so comes my prompt, my question for everybody here at r/literature:
Can we take a moment to discuss this book? Our takeaways, what we felt, and how it changed us?
Source: reddit post