Many Germans will have read this one in high school, but I somehow managed to miss it. So as part of my effort to become more familiar with important German literature, I decided to give it a go.
Im Westen nichts Neues is a short but incredibly dense account of a young German soldier’s experiences in the trenches of the Western front during World War I. Paul and his classmates have been ripped from their school benches and thrown into the war as basically still children. They are quickly forced to grow up as they see their friends die one after another in a war strangely oscillating between high-tech (mustard gas and air-raids) and tradition (bayonets and horses).
“Im Westen nichts Neues” (literally: nothing new in the West) was the euphemism used by the German military to announce that nothing had really changed in the turf war between the French and German trenches on the Western front. Remarque takes us inside what “im Westen nichts Neues” really meant for those who were there: endless, pointless fighting day by day, night by night. “Nichts Neues” meant big news for those fighting in the trenches: from the loss of a friend or being wounded to finding a goose in an abandoned shed and being able to enjoy a proper meal for once.
Once I had started reading, I couldn’t stop. Daunting and depressing, yet at the same time witty and not without humour, Im Westen nichts Neues takes you into the limbo of a war zone with an acuteness that never becomes outdated.
English title: All Quiet on the Western Front
Spanish title: Nada nuevo en el frente