All Quiet…

Many people will see those two words ‘All Quiet…’ and immediately supply the next words, ‘… On The Western Front’. The novel of that name was written by Erich Maria Remarque, who had served on the Western Front from 1916-17 in the German army at Hem-Lenglet, and then posted to the 15th Reserve Infantry Regiment, between Torhout and Houthulst. He was wounded and sent to a hospital in Germany. He had an interesting life, having been born  into a very ordinary family, he became a famous author, he was married three times, twice to a German actress and finally to the American film star Paulette Goddard. He also had a number of affairs with other beautiful and famous actresses, but most people would know his name not from his private life, but from his work ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’.

We are reading this book  for our book club this month, and it is very timely as I have recently visited the battlefields of the 1st World War, including a German cemetery. “All Quiet…” recounts h experiences of a young nineteen year-old German soldier and all the ghastly things he and his comrades have to endure. In my education, and in my teaching the history, literature and poetry of the Great War has figured significantly; and now with the centenary of that awful and bloody conflict being upon us, there are many programmes and articles about it. I have read ‘All Quiet…’ before, but many years ago, probably when I was still at school. Now that I have a son who is only a couple of years older than the soldier in the novel, the universal awfulness of war has really been brought home to me, more than ever before. Reading about a young German suffering and seeing things no-one should see, just the same as young English lads did, or French lads, or Belgians, or all the brave soldiers from the Commonwealth and the USA, has moved me more than I thought it would…and i can’t help but think of all the young people fighting wars today…

The translation I am reading is by Brian Murdoch… and what a stunning translation it is. It leaps right off the page, and you really hear the voice of the young man.

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