This is a novel I’ve been meaning to read for years and I’m not really sure what took me so long. It may just have been that I’ve never been much of a one for war literature. In any event, I wish I’d read it years ago. Even though Remarque disavowed any political purpose in writing the work, it’s the quintessential anti-war novel. The unspeakable horror of trench warfare, the fear, the boredom, the alienation are all unflinchingly described. This is powerful stuff and while there are lighter moments, they make the darker moments even more poignant.
That the Nazis banned this novel doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s definitely not the kind of novel a government with militaristic ambitions and an expectation of unquestioning loyalty would want its citizens to read, particularly the young men expected to fight its wars. Sadly, though, truth telling about war doesn’t make much difference to those who start them or to those who fight them.
I cried quite a bit as I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Tom Lawrence and I know that the work will have a lasting impact on me. Since finishing it yesterday, I’ve read a few reviews on Goodreads, including some one star reviews. What many of the negative reviews have in common is that they appear to have been written by young people who were made to read the book at school. “Boring” seems to be the consensus. I don’t understand that all, except as an indication that for some young people having to read a book at school means it will be inevitably disliked. Or maybe you need to be old enough to understand the concept of mortality to appreciate the novel’s themes. Anyway, while I’m not sure what the ideal age to read this book would be, it’s definitely one that should be read.