Paul Bäumer is a soldier sent to fight in WW1, and this book tells the story of his experiences in the trenches. Over the course of the book, pretty much all the friends he has end up killed, and he himself has to spend some time in hospital after being injured. But when he recovers, he's sent back to the front.
The book was a little episodic - it covered about three years I think, and on many occasions you'd get a bit of story about one set of events, before you'd skip a couple of months. I did find this a little bit disorienting because there couldn't have been much pre-amble to explain that a jump was about to happen so quite often when listening I'd find myself thinking "hang on, where are we now?"
The experiences Paul suffer are undeniably awful, but the book felt a little bit tame compared to what I had been expecting - I think that perhaps this book was radical when it came out, but since then the horrors it describes have been written about in many other books. I don't mean to say that the dreadfulness of it is diminished, but that the impact the book would have had for an audience who had no idea what went on must have been different than it can be now.
So it felt like a worthwhile book to read, but not spectactular. What I found more moving was the story (on Wikipedia) of what happened to the author when the Nazis came to power. Evidently Erich Maria Remarque was considered by them to be a traitor to Germany. According to Wikipedia:
The Nazis continued to decry his writings and claimed that he was a descendant of French Jews and that his real last name was Kramer, a Jewish-sounding name, and his original name spelled backwards. This is still cited in some biographies despite the complete lack of evidence.And after that, his sister was arrested and beheaded after being found guilty of "undermining morale". It's hard to conceive what must have been going through the minds of the people in power then - they surely can't have thought that this kind of thing was justifiable?
Anyway, glad I read the book.
Completed : 08-Mar-2013 (audiobook)