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Topic: "All Quiet on the Western Front" - complete book

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Rick B. (bup) - ,
Subject: "All Quiet on the Western Front" - complete book
Date Posted: 8/23/2009 11:20 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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This thread is the place for discussion of our August classic book, All Quiet on the Western Front, for anybody who has finished the whole book.

Here are a few questions intended to provoke thoughts/comments:

Who was your favorite character (besides the narrator Paul), and why?

Obviously, there were lots of deaths in the book. Did any of the deaths seem qualitatively different from the others? Was that intended by Remarque?

Could this book have been written about an earlier war? Were Remarque's feelings about war not applicable to wars before World War One, or did people just not talk about the realities of war before then?

What were some of the most effective scenes in the book?

I'll post my own reactions after we get some discussion going.

Date Posted: 8/24/2009 5:38 PM ET
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Who was your favorite character (besides the narrator Paul), and why?

I liked the older friend, Katz because of his uncanny and almost comical ability to find food and other resources.

Did any of the deaths seem qualitatively different from the others? Was that intended by Remarque?

A couple of the deaths stand out.  For example, Kimmerich was the first death described in detail. I felt like I was watching an episode of M.A.S.H.  It was agonizing to read. Remarque did an excellent job of demonstrating how the boy soldiers had to shut down their feelings otherwised they'd go mad. An excellent demonstration of shutting down was how Mueller called dibs on the dying soldier's boots.

Could this book have been written about an earlier war? Were Remarque's feelings about war not applicable to wars before World War One, or did people just not talk about the realities of war before then?

WWI had a lot of new warfare technology that no army had ever used before including gas, and other numerous types of arsenal that I can't list cuz I glaze over on weaponry. Trench warfare was new, IIRC.

What were some of the most effective scenes in the book?

There are too many to list, but I'll offer a few.

My favorite scene was the latrine protocol in the beginning of the book. It was funny.

Remarque did an outstanding job of describing the total gore of war. Soldiers running intact one minute and the next, running w/out the benefit of a head!. Soldiers running with their feet blown off. Parts of bodies up in trees...and so forth. I could "see" it.

The scene in which Paul has to kill another man was horribly sad. The mental dialog was agonizing to read.

The irony of using a grave yard and corpses as a way to preserve lives.

The scene in which Paul goes home on leave and just doesn't connect with anyone.

The death of seemingly invincible Katz. I liked that character and his loss was hard to take.

 This is one of the most powerful stories I've ever read. I hate to say I enjoyed it, but I did. I was riveted the whole way through. Although I hated how it  ended, it's a perfect ending.

 

 



Last Edited on: 8/24/09 8:32 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/24/2009 6:21 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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Difficult subject matter but like, Laura, I loved it. The book was captivating with engaging characters, heartfelt descriptions, and a moving story.

 

I also agree with Laura that the ending was infinitely sad but perfect. I admit to uttering "no, no, no" as I read the last page.

 

Some scenes that stand out for me were Himmelstoss’s first time in the trenches and Paul’s leave home. Remarque’s descriptions of how difficult it was to return to a sense of normalcy after being in the trenches were excellent. I loved the scene with the French girls and Tjaden showing up later :-)

 

Paul was my favorite character and I liked Kropp, Kat, Haie, and Tjaden – all were interesting in their own way and I liked the interaction of the men.

 

Kemmerich's death was difficult. I liked that Paul stayed by his side til the end.

 

I believe this novel has been written about in other wars . . . War and Peace had a fair amount of war scenes and hundreds of thousands of men died in the Napoleonic wars. The Russians lost half their army just in the Battle of Borodino. That is just a staggering and insane number.

 

BTW, I recently read City of Thieves by David Benioff and it reminded me a bit of All Quiet. It is historical fiction about the Siege of Lenigrad and also a coming-of-age story. Plenty of cussing and death also but I think that is in keeping with the time period.

 

Great questions Rick!

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 8/24/2009 10:18 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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TomeReader, I liked Kat too. His death seemed qualitatively different to me. The fleetingness of life, Paul actually allowing himself to express emotion (besides horror), and the unexpectedness - I was really caught off guard when Paul learned Kat was dead.

A lot of the same scenes stuck out for me. The bodies and coffins coming up in the shelled cemetery is going to stick with me forever. Paul's killing of the French guy (Gerard?) by stabbing him was haunting, of course, and affected me. Also, I really liked the scene where they're talking about what it really means for a nation to be at war. The individual soldiers - who were civilians before (or students) don't hate the other countrymen. The country itself - the land, mountains, rivers, don't hate each other. War is a very strange thing - even the Kaiser supposedly didn't want war.

And that's part of why I thought this couldn't have happened much earlier than World War I. Maybe the American Civil War - civilians called to war to fight. Many European wars before this were fought by career soldiers and mercenaries. And the stories all romanticized the fighting. I've read War and Peace - even though Tolstoy tried to be cynical, with people killed pointlessly and young soldiers being naive (and a wonderful war scene early in the book where a soldier in utter confusion throws his weapon at the enemy), there was still a politeness to it all. There was a reluctance to express the horror. People in earlier wars died more often of disease than of wounds, so it must have been horrible in some ways, but...I don't know...I just can't picture this book working without the soldiers literally living in trenches.

Anyway, I understand why people call it the best book about war ever written - that's a lot of power for what was honestly a quick read.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 1:29 AM ET
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I would probably not have ever read this if left to myself, but I'm glad I did.

The thing that particularly stuck with me was the trouble Paul had in settling back into "soldier mode" after being home
on leave.  He had been so programmed and numbed by everything he had seen and been through in the war that going
home just seemed to confuse him.  You have to wonder how any of those men and boys are able to adapt after they go
home when the war is over.

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 8/25/2009 7:46 AM ET
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Chris: You have to wonder how any of those men and boys are able to adapt after they go home when the war is over.

Yeah, that's a huge problem at the end of wars, isn't it? Now I think I understand it a tiny bit better.



Last Edited on: 8/25/09 7:47 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/25/2009 10:00 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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Along the same lines, I remember when my cousin came home from fighting in the Vietnam War. I believe the term they used back then was "shell shocked". I was very young but remember overhearing conversations about how traumatized he was. He was a medic and stretcher carrier. After he came home he had "twitchy eyes" and rapid blinking and for the first few months he would dive for cover at certain loud sounds. He never, never has talked about his experience to his son's chagrin. He had a fiance to come home to and I think that made all the difference in getting him re-adapted to home but it took years.

I decided to look up "shell shocked" and found this in Wiki:

In World War I, shell shock was considered a psychiatric illness resulting from injury to the nerves during combat. The horrors of trench warfare meant that about 10% of the fighting soldiers were killed (compared to 4.5% during World War II) and the total proportion of troops who became casualties (killed or wounded) was 56%. Whether a shell-shock sufferer was considered "wounded" or "sick" depended on the circumstances. The large proportion of World War I veterans in the European population meant that the symptoms were common to the culture, although it may not have become popularly known in the US.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 1:26 PM ET
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You have to wonder how any of those men and boys are able to adapt after they go home when the war is over.

A lot of them didn't adapt well. Even Paul expressed concern that he had nothing to go home to. After reading about his visit back home, I can see why.

A fictional but painful example of a shell-shocked soldier can be found in Virginia Woolf's book Mrs. Dalloway. Who can forget poor Septimus Smith?

While reading All Quiet, I kept thinking about a lot of other stories. I kept thinking if any of these men survive, they're going to turn out to be like Woolf's Smith.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 11:00 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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For so many years, often on a stormy night, I would do one of two things. The worst was that I would strike out at something, often hitting my wife. But she was a nurse who had been in Nam too, and at least she understood. The other one was I would jump out of bed and often get all the way out in the hall before I figured out where I was. It wasn't what they call flashbacks. It was a conditioned response; I was looking for my foxhole.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 11:38 PM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2007
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My feelings at the end of the book are just sad, sad, sad.  The comments made by Paul and his buddies about how they had no hard feelings toward the French soldiers.  The idea that wars are begun by higher ups but it's the common people who are most affected.  The feelings that Paul had for the man that he killed.  The fleeting idea of Paul's that he was only concerned about his one life--then quickly replaced by his feelings for his comrades.  The statement by Paul that the younger soldiers "only know how to die."

On a lighter note--"Such things exasperate a soldier more than the front-line" when they were gussied up to be inspected by the Kaiser.

My husband was also a medic in Viet Nam.  I didn't know him at that time.  When we first began dating, years after Viet Nam, he talked to me about it at great length one night.  Since then, unless I ask a question (as I did while reading this book), he never mentions it.  Shortly after we were married, we went to a Fourth of July celebration at a military base nearby.  On a huge outdoor screen, they showed several minutes of various wars.  He put his head down and didn't lift it again until that part of the show was over.  This was such a difference from my father, who often talked about his WW II experience.  Then, again, although my father was in France as a soldier in WW II, he never actually saw combat.

Thanks for "making" me read this book.

Date Posted: 8/26/2009 3:28 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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A little about the author:

From Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Maria_Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque was born on 22 June 1898 in a working-class family in the German city of Osnabrück, the son of Peter Franz Remark (b. 14 June 1867, Kaiserswerth) and Anna Maria Remark, nee Stallknecht (b. 21 November 1871, Katernberg). At the age of sixteen or seventeen he made his first attempts at writing: essays, poems, and the beginnings of a novel that was finished later and published in 1920 as The Dream Room (Die Traumbude).

At eighteen Remarque was conscripted into the army. On 12 June 1917 he was transferred to the Western Front, 2nd Company, Reserves, Field Depot of the 2nd Reserves Guards Division at Hem-Lenglet. On 26 June he was posted to the 15th Reserve Infantry Regiment, 2nd Company of Trench Battalion Bethe, and was stationed between Torhout and Houthulst. On 31 July he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, right arm and neck, and was repatriated to an army hospital in Germany where he spent the rest of the war.

This was an interesting bio also: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/remarque.htm

 

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 8/28/2009 8:04 AM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
Posts: 2,625
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Had a disturbing dream last night where I was in a war, and protecting my kids. I had to stab some people and it was terrible. I wonder what caused the dream...

Date Posted: 8/28/2009 10:06 AM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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We all know who Audie Murphy was. Whatever a war hero is he sure was one. The service wouldn't take him originally because he was too young and too small. He had numerous well-earned decorations before he got up on the burning tank. They all were paid for with his blood. When they were making the movie in Fort Ord, California (not much like Germany, terrain-wise), He was all ready to go out for the scene in the movie with the tank. The one that he was chosen to receive The Medal of Honor for. He went outside and saw it all, heard it all, smelled it all. So Loud! So chaotic! And the smoke from artillery and the smell!

And he couldn'tdoit right off.He had to calm his nerves for a few minutes.

For whatever that may be worth.