Friday, 2 May 2008

Book of the Week - All Quiet on the Western Front

The title is more literally translated into english as "Nothing New on the Western Front," I understand. I like the way this story is told, because, while the conflict was patently absurd, the absurdity is apparent in the telling of the soldier's story (for example, the fact that soldiers from both sides frequent the same brothels), and it is unnecessary for Remarque to dwell on that. Also, there's no tub-thumping jingoism (the soldier observes, at one point, that both sides have been told that the other eats babies, as I recall), nor expressed hatred. Indeed, there is a decided absence of that commodity, as indicated by the excerpt, below.

I read, somewhere, that Erich Remarque was wounded at Passchendaele.

...The days pass. One misty morning another Russian is buried; a few of them die every day now. I happen to be on sentry duty when he is laid to rest. The POWs sing a chorale; they sing in harmony and it sounds as if they were hardly voices at all, but as if an organ were playing, far away on the moor.

The funeral is soon over.

In the evening they are standing by the wire again, and the wind blows across to them from the birch woods. The stars are cold.

By now I've got to know a few of them who can speak German pretty well. One of them is a musician, and he tells me that he had been a violinist in Berlin. When he hears that I play the piano a little, he fetches his violin and plays. The others sit down and lean their backs against the wire-netting. He stands and plays, and often he has that far-away look that violinists get when they close their eyes and then strikes up a new rhythm on the instrument and smiles at me.

Presumably he is playing folk songs; the others hum the tunes with him. They are like dark hills, and the humming is deep, subterranean. The voice of the violin stands out like a slim girl above them, and it is bright and alone. The voices stop and the violin remains - it sounds thin in the night, as if it were freezing; you have to stand close by - it would probably be better in a room - out here it makes you sad to hear it wandering about, all alone...


Fiddy said...

I'm cold, I'm lonely,
I'm scared of shellfire.
Digging a trench
KABOOM! Goes the choir.
Closer & closer
To the fallout dust.
To gain a few inches
In a war that's unjust.

There's a whistle overhead...


Stephany said...

I'm so excited! one of my favorite books! Now I'm going to have to go read it again! Nice choice.