Goodreads rating: 3.81/5 (128K+ ratings)
My rating: 8/10
First published: 29th January 1929
Genre: Historical Fiction, War
This book is not very long. It’s less than 300 pages and is broken up into short chapters, which makes it super quick to get through. It’s from the perspective of an early 20s man called Paul Bäumer, who is a German soldier who is convinced by his teacher, along with the rest of his classmates, to join the German army at the start of WWI. It details his experiences, along with his best friends’, on the front line, in training, and on leave.
I’ve read quite a few books that are set during wars, and whilst all are quite sad, none have ever got to me as much as this one. The level of detail about how Paul is feeling while sitting in the trenches on the front line, cowering from the shelling, and watching friends die while he starves, is incredible and devastating.
It was weird reading this knowing it was from a German soldiers perspective for two reasons – a) because I’ve never read a wartime book that was from a German’s perspective and b) I feel like I should be ‘going for’ the other side when reading these sorts of books as my Grandfather fought in WWII for the English side, and I’ve always felt like I should ‘go’ for England. Yet reading this book you totally forget that you’re reading about a German soldier. It feels like it could be any soldier in any war, and I felt sad for him regardless.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It’s pretty raw, and it gave me more insight into war (which was devastating). The book is well written, and the ending is just right.
We march up, moody or good-tempered soldiers – we reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals.
When we went to the District Commandant to enlist, we were a class of twenty young men, many of whom proudly shaved for the first time before going to the barracks. We had no definite plans for our future. Our thoughts for a career and occupation were as yet of too unpractical a character to furnish any scheme of life. We were still crammed with vague ideas which gave to life, and to the war also, an ideal and almost romantic character.
The soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three-quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions, and they give an intimate flavor to expressions of his greatest joy as well as of his deepest indignation.
But the shelling is stronger than everything. It wipes out the sensibilities, I merely crawl still deeper in the coffin, it should protect me, and especially as Death himself lies in it too.
In the branches dead men are hanging. A naked soldier is squatting in the fork of a tree, he still has his helmet on, otherwise he is entirely unclad. There is only half of him sitting up there, the top half, the legs are missing.
“It’s queer, when one thinks about it,” goes on Kropp, “we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?”