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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 15 June 2019

"All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque

The classic anti-war novel, published in 1929 and based on the author's experiences in the German Army during the First World War.

There is philosophy, there is eloquence, there is horror, there are purple passages. This might make the diet over-rich were it not for the context of a man in his tight-knit bunch of friends doing incredibly normal things. Thus, for example, the line "We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death.” (C 5) might sound a little pretentious were it not for the fact that this is in the context of a midnight feast of stolen goose, roasted and devoured, during a bombardment. Remarque can get away with his purple passages because of the ordinariness of the descriptions and the rooting of all that takes place in such mundane and everyday reality. In fact, he does more than 'get away' with it; it is the prosaic but detailed description of ordinariness that makes the philosophy stand out and lends it its unforgettable power. Were it not for lines such as “There is a smell of tar, of summer, and of sweaty feet.” (C 3) he could not write “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow." (C 11)

This is a book all about contrasts. For example: “One morning two butterflies play in front of our trench. They are brimstone-butterflies, with red spots on their yellow wings. What can they be looking for here? There is not a plant or flower for miles. They settle on the teeth of a skull.” (C 6) He can do this in a single line: “The branches might seem gay and cheerful were not cannon embowered there.” (C 4)

He is eloquent in his bitterness about his teachers who persuaded him and his classmates to enlist. “For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress - to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. ... But the first death we saw shattered this ... The first bombardments showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces. While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying.” (C 1) But he accepts that you can’t do anything about that. “Where would the world be if one brought every man to book?” (C 1)

This bitterness extends to initial training. “We learnt that a bright button is weightier than four volumes of Schopenhauer. ... With our young awakened eyes we saw that the classical conception of the Fatherland held by our teachers resolved itself here into a renunciation of personality such as one would not ask of the meanest servants ... We were to be trained for heroism as though we were circus-ponies.” (C 1)

He feels that he has been ruined by the war. He wonders what he can do now, a young man whose college years were spent in killing men. "Through the years our business has been killing; - it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?” (C 11) And can he even live? “Now if we go back we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope. We will not be able to find our way any more.” (C 12)

He is bitter against politicians. "I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another." (C 11) He has a solution: “Kropp proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins.” (C 3)

This is an eloquent condemnation of warfare.
Other great lines:
  • “The poor brave wretches, who are so terrified that they dare not cry out loudly, but with battered chests, with torn bellies, arms and legs only whimper softly for their mothers and cease as soon as one looks at them.” (C 6)
  • “Between five and ten recruits fall to every old hand.” (C 6)
  • “We were never very demonstrative in our family; poor folk who toil and are full of acres are not so. It is not their way to protest what they already know.” (C 7)
  • “What is leave? - A pause that only makes everything after it so much worse.” (C 7)
  • “Even a soldier’s behind likes to sit soft.” (C 10)
June 2019; 191 pages.

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