Friday, 19 May 2017

All Quiet on the Western Front, again!

All Quiet on the Western Front,  again
The Kindle version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” prompted me to revisit Remarque. I read the original German version back in the 1960s. It felt dated then and it is even more dated now. After WW1 there didn’t seem to be more horrors left to tell. Little did Remarque know that the horrors the Nazis were yet to inflict on mankind would make the mud fields of Flanders pale in comparison.
When Im Westen nichts Neues was published in 1929 it was an instant success abroad. It suffered widespread condemnation in Germany. Lewis Milestone’s Academy Award winning film was banned. Remarque’s books soon suffered the same fate.  Remarque fled to Switzerland in 1932. His sister was killed by the Nazis during the war. Remarque left for America but returned shortly after to Switzerland where he stayed until his death in 1970.
In many ways, Remarque lived the life that was the core theme of his novels: How to find your way back when your life has been taken from you. Remarque never really found his way back. I remember one of his last interviews on Swiss TV. He was still bitter about the fact that the German literary establishment had never really accepted him. He was a German writer. His English was basic but improved over time. He certainly could not have written Im Westen nichts Neues in English – yet that’s where he made it as a writer, translated and, to some extend, interpreted by others.
There is no point  in slapping a critique on a long gone writer who deserved success and suffered tragedy for it.  His novel has not lost its message that scores more of young servicemen and women will have to suffer: coming back unscathed is impossible.

And now Kindle at its worst, has caught up with the old war horse. For a staggering $ 7.41 Amazon offers a “new” (2010) translation that does nothing to lift the old version into a new century. Whatever literary merit the original once had has long been lost. It feels and sounds tired, done and dusted. There is no coming back. 

PS: Look for the earlier print version if you want to read this book.