Title:All Quiet on the Western Front
Author: Erich Maria Remarque
Narrator: Frank Muller
Audiobook Length: 6 hours, 55 minutes
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 29 January 1929
Bottom Line: Tragic, fascinating, and an absolute must-read
“Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive.”
Thoughts: There is no doubt that all wars are awful. However, there is something particularly horrifying about World War I. Erich Maria Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front captures the brutality, the futility, and the utter senselessness of the war with quiet dedication and startlingly honesty. Readers experiencing the war through Paul’s eyes have no doubt that Paul is the foil by which Mr. Remarque can express his own revulsion at the travesty of the war and its impact on an entire generation.
Paul does not just stop with the war’s effects on his fellow soldiers and friends, which are bad enough to induce nightmares in readers. He also shares the collateral damage wrought on animals as well as the land for which the two sides fight. He does this with simultaneously a sensitivity to suffering and a sense of desolation that there is nothing to be done about it. The scenes in which Paul matter-of-factly describes his experiences at the front are particularly upsetting because he so valiantly tries to remove all emotion from his narrative but cannot do so.
The story is not just about the physical action at the front, although that is indeed a large part of it. Much of the story is also Paul’s reflection on the effects of the war on the soldiers, on his generation, on those at home, and on the world at large. These sections are particularly thought-provoking and poignant, especially as Paul recognizes the idiocy of war but is impotent to do anything other than follow orders.
Frank Muller’s performance is appropriately somber for the story Paul has to share. He epitomizes Paul’s mental and physical suffering and growing despair at the hopelessness of it all. He also manages to convey Paul’s fierce conviction to change the world to avoid future conflicts and the sense of hope that some good will result from all the tragedy. It is a sobering narration that also further clarifies the humanizing of the war as Mr. Muller successfully becomes Paul in all his doubts, fears, anger, hopelessness, and hope.
One cannot help but feel All Quiet on the Western Front should be mandatory reading in high schools and colleges. Paul’s experiences humanize war in a way that one will never experience unless one is actually on the front lines. Also, its message is timeless. Change the setting to urban warfare from trench warfare and the story easily becomes one about today’s soldiers in the Middle East. In fact, upon finishing the novel, it becomes much easier to understand why today’s soldiers return from Afghanistan or Iraq with so many mental health issues. It not only causes readers to pause and reflect on the damage we too are doing to future generations, but it also forces readers to contemplate the true effectiveness of such warfare.