This month we are revisiting one of the greatest war novels of all time. Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece, All Quiet on the Western Front, is reissued in trade paperback. If you or your book club are looking for great literary fiction this fall, then look no further because Random House Reader’s Circle has the exclusive book club materials to get your discussion going.
“The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.”—The New York Times Book Review
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Kantorek the schoolmaster convinced Paul Bäumer and all his schoolmates to enlist, but Paul’s actual wartime experiences prove to be very different than expected. What effect do you think this had on Paul’s faith in the adult world?
2. As their comrade Kemmerich lies dying in the infirmary, Paul and the other soldiers gather around him to offer encouragement and comfort. But they’re also very concerned about who will get Kemmerich’s boots once he dies. What is the significance of this?
3. Paul muses: We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. What makes this so poignant?
4. What did you make of Himmelstoss’s treatment of the soldiers, and vice versa? How did Paul’s opinion of him change over time?
5. Paul imagines that even being back in the time and place of his happiest memories would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead comrade. Those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spend together take on a mournful life in memory; but the man himself it is not. What did you make of his alienation?
6. When Paul is caught in a trench with a soldier from the other side, he wants to help the man’s family after the war. But later, back among his comrades, he says: “It was only because I had to lie there with him so long . . . After all, war is war.” What does he mean by this?
7. What do you think Paul and his friends hoped to gain on their visits to the French women across the canal? Why is he so disappointed when he realizes that his brunette companion is unimpressed by the fact that she’ll never see him again?
8. Paul’s descriptions of the Russian prisoners of war show evidence of compassion. How have Paul’s attitudes towards the enemy changed over the course of the book?
9. What did you think of the ending?
10. Remarque’s second novel, The Road Back, is about veterans in postwar Germany. If Paul had not died, how do you imagine he would have dealt with the postwar world?
11. A hundred years after WWI, what has changed? What has stayed the same?
12. What do you think Remarque was ultimately trying to say about war?