One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (AMAZON)
Erich Maria Remarque was a German author and veteran of the First World War. He was born 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. At the age of 18 he was conscripted into the German army. During his service he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, right arm and neck. Following the war he worked as a primary school teacher, and later as a librarian, a journalist and a technical writer.
Among Remarque’s published novels were All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph. His works were publicly burned by the Nazi German government, and in 1947 he and his first wife became naturalised citizens of the United States. Four years earlier, his sister had been executed at the behest of Hitler’s ‘People’s Court’.
Remarque adapted the book Ten Days to Die, about Hitler’s final days, as a screenplay, and he also wrote for the stage. His last novel was The Night in Lisbon, published in 1962. During his lifetime Remarque married twice and had love affairs with the actresses Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Thanks very much to the wonderful Karoline for hosting and writing up this book club – find her here @KarolineAKemp!
It was good to welcome two new faces to our discussion, Jane and Katy who also come to White Swan.
We had a discussion about the translation, some of the group had a more recent translation from the mid 1990’s and it was generally felt to be much more accessible than the earlier one. We also discussed the translation of the title, the note on the new translation states that a direct translation from the German is ‘Nothing New on the Western Front’
The book was fairly easy to read in the modern translation and it was noted that that the tense changed from the singular to the plural during the scenes at the front. It was noted that nowadays we expect to have strong characterisation and narrative drive from contemporary fiction but that there is no narrative drive in War. As the book went on it became more and more detached as Paul became more detached from his own life.
AQOTWF is written from the point of view of a German private Paul. It was felt that the language used was chosen to emphasise the commonality and gruelling of experience of trench warfare regardless of side. Emphasised particularly in the scene in the shell hole with the solider that he killed. It is also something that has been brought out recently by historians of the First World War (see the History Hit podcast with @gerarmyresearch).
It was felt that the language used effectively conveyed vivid imagery of the experiences of being in the front line as well as the banality of being behind the lines when comic interludes such as Kat getting the food were used to good effect. The emphasis on the food (or lack) of it conveyed its importance to the troops, most effectively that when they suddenly get good food they realise that it means they are heading to the front line.
We felt that the characterisation was kept deliberately vague, the concentration was on passages dealing with Paul’s interior life such as when he was on leave and felt totally alienated from his previous life, We felt that Paul represented the everyman, he grew but never lost his humanity.
We felt that the strong bond between the school friends was shown well. We all felt the horror of the scenes with the rats and felt that the scenes in the mists where very lyrical which intensified the horror.
The book also pointed out how much harder it was going to be for the younger men who had become soldiers straight from school to readjust and/or keep going as they didn’t have families/jobs to go back to. It was also very scathing about the generation who were too old to fight themselves but where very vocal at making the younger generations go.
We decided that we would have preferred the end to have been left more open than it was and felt that it packed a lot into quite a slim book.
Trailer for the 1979 film[youtube https://youtu.be/DX1PW2n8POg]