Tuesday, July 6, 2004

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

A keeper. As I explained again to my wife tonight when she nagged me about all my damn books, I recently rearranged them all so that the only ones I am displaying are the ones I would consider reading again some day. This one will clearly go on that shelf. The rest are being packed away in boxes, with the idea of keeping them if at all possible, but sorted for possible disposal if it comes to that. The dust jacket said the author was wounded five times in World War I, and I can believe it after reading this grim account of life and death on those front lines. One of many citable paragraphs:

We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; a lance corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we find one man who had held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end.

The image of the man running on footless stumps will stay with me for some time, probably because I know it’s true, that it is something Remarque actually saw in the war. How men struggle to survive when their world has been shattered, when their own body, the very essence of their being, has been maimed and mangled by forces they have no ability or hope to control is endlessly fascinating to me and something I would like to explore more in my own fiction.

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