It is a classic novel written in 1929 by a German war veteran of the First World War known as Erich Maria Remarque. The novel centers on the life-threatening physical and mental trauma experienced by German soldiers and their post war alienation from noncombatant life. The book was banned and burnt during the Nazi regime in Germany, but has been acclaimed worldwide. Within the first one and a half years in print, this novel sold more than 2.5 million units including the translated versions. The book was adapted for a film by the same title by Lewis Milestone in 1930, which later won an Oscar.
The book tells the story of Paul Baumer, a German, who along with his classmates were encouraged to volunteer for the war by their teacher. It depicts the various battles and war conditions that the men had to endure as well as the fact that even though they had escaped its shells, they were forever destroyed by post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of them had joined the war effort and had been sent to the Western front aged between 18 and 19 years of age. They had neither developed a personality from experience nor had acquired any professional skill. Baumer on his part had wanted to be a pianist but war injuries scuttled that ambition. Theirs is the story of a generation destroyed by the traumatic experiences of war. They essentially lost their youth, hope, and future to the terrible effects and consequences of war. On returning home, Baumer experiences an acute sense of alienation from his family and the society. He feels strongly but helplessly that he was no longer in tune with people and the common society and that no one could really understand what he was passing through. He observes the same problems with his colleagues and only by a deliberate effort to understand himself did he finally pick up his pen to write what turned out to be a widely acclaimed book about war and its terrible effects on veterans. It must be mentioned that at the outset he did not set out to write a book but only tried to put down his thoughts in an attempt to understand himself.
The main characters in the book include Paul Baumer, Albert Kropp, Haie Westhus, Fredrich Muller, Stanislus Katczinsky and Tjaden. Albert, Haie and Muller were all schoolmates of Baumer while Tjaden was a locksmith and Katczinsky, an older man, who was a cobbler. Other minor characters include Kantorek, Peter Leer, Bertinck, Himmelstoβ, Detering, Josef Hamacher., Franz Kemerich, and Joseph Behm.