All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque…a Classic in Translation

I am so late in life reading classics which others would have read earlier in life, no doubt due to focus on study in other areas and life focus in other areas. This delicious post-retirement space has opened up, where reading has come into focus again……so glad I did not miss out on this Classic.

Throughout life I have I have had a strong identification with the vulnerability and, too often, the tragedy of young men going to war. World War One epitomised the large scale waste of youth and the devastation of a generation. The small brushes of war in my own life have been…

seeing a cousin drafted into the Army, off to Vietnam at Central Station as a teenager

being aware that my father had had a “long” war in New Guinea in World War Two (Itape to Wewak Trail) making him an older father when he married

The impact of the loss of my mothers young brother-in-law during WW2

watching numerous WW2. Movies with my mother on Sunday afternoons, growing up

researching the death of My father’s older cousin who enlisted in WW1 early, went first to Gallipoli, then to France. He was injured severely three times, and sent back to the Front each time, to be killed a couple of months before the end of the war

always finding ANZAC day Commemoration deeply moving, to weeping

Remembering Rudyard Kipling’s loss of his son, who he foolishly signed consent to join up, his death on the front after rapid field promotions. His grave site not being found till after Kipling’s death. Kipling had looked for it the rest of his life

the poor aftercare that Veterans get too often

a need to augment my small bunch of poppy flowers which my mother (deceased) initiated, in a dish on her sideboard

the poppies at the Australian War Memorial…

Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen (The old Lie!)…the Old Lie being that old men in faraway rooms decide and manage wars, the young men are thrown as fodder into it….

wonderful movies made by the Australian and British film industries commemorating the 100 years since

I have completed my two WW1 commemoration knitted rug throws…

Virginia Woolf’s book, Mrs Dalloway. Also movie, starring Vanessa Redgrave as the older Mrs Dalloway, and Natascha McElhone playing the younger. A close description of the annihilation of those killed as well as the survivors

All a little tangential to the topic…

I read All Quiet on the Western Front as an audiobook as well. It was stark in its portrayal of the reality for young German men in WW1 at the Front. Aside from a few references to the German forces or the Allied forces, the work could as well have been about British or Australian soldiers. They were all thrown mercilessly from trenches into no-man’s land. I was devastated by the ending, which was very naive of me.

It was first published in Germany in 1929; then 2.5 million copies sold in 22 languages in the first 18 months.

The author, Erich Maria Remarque, was himself traumatised, by his time at the Front as an 18 year old, thus able to portray the tragedy, bleakness and loneliness if being at war. He was injured, and lost companions.

This book was one of the books which were burned at Hitler’s Book banning and burning. It was stigmatised as subversive in Hitler’s Germany and was rendered poorly available. At the same time, it became and remains a classic in the rest of the world.

Remarque changed his name back from Remark (a Germanified form) to reflect the French origin of his father’s family. He replaced his middle name with Maria to honour his mother. Before WW2, he moved to Switzerland to live; later, he became a US citizen, but finished his life back in Switzerland. Later in life he married movie star Paulette Goddard. He wrote other books, but this is the world famous classic.
The book w

A.W. Wheen translated the book into English very early in 1930 for British publishers. His age and war experience was very similar to Remarque’s. Wheen was an almost exact contemporary of Remarque. Born in New South Wales in 1897, Wheen enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in October 1915. He was quite severely injured and was not well enough to be discharged till 1920. His is regarded as the best text, translated with the knowledge of the experience. There was another translation which is more word for word, but stilted (Murdoch). Then there were two American translations which deleted significant parts to sanitize it for the American reader, the first more than the second.

Such a worthwhile read, conveying the true pall of war.

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wkatydid

Living in The Gap following growing up in Brisbane. Also lived in Nambour, Mt Isa, Cairns, Beaudesert, Ipswich, qualifying as a "Queenslanda". Retired and loving growing extended family, sub-tropical gardening, cooking, reading, politics, aquaerobics, family genealogy, sewing, knitting, film, IT, all things Mac, Pinterest, Goodreads, State of Origin.......

4 thoughts on “All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque…a Classic in Translation”

  1. I have never read it but will now
    I had the great privilege of doing my hospital nurse training at Greenslopes and I loved those old diggers! In those days there were still some WW1 vets and they would tell you their stories if you asked! I recall many stories told while I was showering these men . I clearly remember thinking that though their bodies were slowly being ravaged by old age when they stood up to be transferred from wheelchair to shower chair their physique and strength was still there! I spent sometime in the skin ward at the back of the medical ward ( no-one else wanted to work there ) and here largely were the vets who suffered from being forced by the Japanese to work out in the sun all day with their fair Anglo skin . The results were often catastrophic skin cancers and resections. There were also skin conditions that the doctors just scratched their heads about! There were tar baths and when you made the beds you were very careful to fold the bottom sheet in on itself not to disturb the mountain of skin that had peeled off over night ! Over that three years the Vietnam vets started to trickle in with addictions and psychiatric disorders and bizarre auto immune disorders probably from agent orange. One patient is indelibly imprinted on my mind . I was 21 at the time and again in the medical ward there was a small private room where I had my first experience of reverse barrier nursing and specialing a patient which meant you stayed in the room with them all shift. This woman had been a nurse in New Guinea. I was shocked to see a wasted body with severe muscle contractions and frequent tremors and seizures. When awake her eyes followed you around the room, she could no longer speak but made awful noises and when you sponged bathed her she would grip onto your white gown with a boney hand that had an almost supernatural strength. I nursed her for several weeks wearing gown and mask and gloves in summer as there was no aircon in those days . I noticed that no one came into the room but me and the doctors would discuss her on the rounds outside the door . No one knew what she had but everyone was clearly frightened of her! One day there was a med reg in the nurses station writing in a chart so I asked him what he thought was going on . His answer was that it was probably a thing called Kuru but no one really knew and there was no treatment and these things are nearly always fatal and obviously it was believed infectious as I was reverse Barrier nursing and everyone else was too terrified to enter the room except student nurses who had no choice . I left the ward and soon after she died and her brain was examined at autopsy ! The answer was Kuru a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy thought caused by the funerary cannibalism practiced in New Guinea. This experience made me research everything I could on this bizarre thing! It was always more common in women and children as the men ate the body and the women and children were left the organs and the brain! I thought well I am probably alright because I hadn’t ever eaten human brain that I was aware of !
    I was told that slides of her brain were sent around the world to various research labs!It was caused by a new transmissible thing thing yet to be named or understood ! In the early eighties I followed the “Mad cow disease” in the New Scientist and was shocked when Britain destroyed its entire cattle herd. Sheep farmers were watching their sheep falling down and walking into fences and then dying and the vets called it Scrapie. In line with really dumb 20th century animal farming practices instead of burning the sheep corpses they ground them up with other stuff and made pellets which they fed to their cattle! It was in 1957 a year before I was born when Kuru had become an epidemic that Daniel Carlton Gajdusek a virologist with Australian Michael Alpers conducted experiments with the long suffering Chimpanzee and within two years one of the chimps had developed Kuru demonstrating that an unknown factor was transmitted through infectious biomaterial and could cross species! The finding was deemed a very important advancement in human medicine and they were awarded a Noble prize in 1976. Further research by Ephraim Field a British nueroscientist connected it to scrapie and multiple sclerosis. He noted that the diseases interacted with the glial cells of the brain and this observation later became the prion! Prions are different from all other known infectious agents such as viruses, Bacteria, fungi or parasites. It cannot be destroyed by any current sterilisation processes! I am still following this closely with the epidemic of dementia and am excited by the new era and elevation of neuroscience! All because of my experience caring for an Australian army nurse!
    A book and film which depicts the absolute ghastly impacts of war is “The testament of youth “
    Not sure if that was on your list !
    Love you lots have a wonderful Christmas with your large family and friends!
    Robyn

    1. I read this book as a late primary/early high school student. It is one of a number of books about war that I read about that time – others include “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Colditz Story”, “The Dam Busters”, “Reach for the Sky”, “The Bridge over the River Kwai”, “A Farewell to Arms”, “The Cruel Sea”, “For Whom the Bells Toll”, “Boldness be my Friend”, “Down in the Drink”, “Where Eagles Dare”, “Eagles over Taranto”, “The Search for the Bismarck”, “The Final Enemy”etc., etc.

      Yet “All Quiet on the Western Front” would be one of the most authentic accounts of young men thrown into the hell that is face to face combat. To my mind it’s direct authentic contemporary is Audie Murphy’s “To Hell and Back”.

      This is a great review of a great book.

    2. I read this book as a late primary/early high school student. It is one of a number of books about war that I read about that time – others include “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Colditz Story”, “The Dam Busters”, “Reach for the Sky”, “The Bridge over the River Kwai”, “A Farewell to Arms”, “The Cruel Sea”, “For Whom the Bells Toll”, “Boldness be my Friend”, “Down in the Drink”, “Where Eagles Dare”, “Eagles over Taranto”, “The Search for the Bismarck”, “The Final Enemy”etc., etc.

      Yet “All Quiet on the Western Front” would be one of the most authentic accounts of young men thrown into the hell that is face to face combat. To my mind it’s direct authentic contemporary is Audie Murphy’s “To Hell and Back”.

      This is a great review of a great book.

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