This book moved me in the way the movie “Saving Pvt. Ryan” did (especially that movie’s initial D-Day scene). There are countless war movies and books, but these are the only two I am familiar with that were capable of bringing home the horror of war. My father fought in WWII and never told war stories or even talked about combat other than in vague ways. In his view war was a senseless “meat grinder”. I never felt I knew what he was getting at until after I'd seen Saving Pvt. Ryan and read “All Quiet on the Western Front”.
All Quiet is written by a WWI combat veteran and tells tells the story of Paul Baumer who, along with his classmates is encouraged to join the war with a great deal of patriotic talk by those who, by virtue of their age or position, need never fight themselves. Paul soon discovers that, as U.S. Gen. Sherman said:
"I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell."
"There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell."
I finished this book thinking, for mankind to evolve, wars should simply be banned (or, as suggested by Paul and his comrades, turned into life-and-death tournaments between the world leaders and generals who declare them).
The narrator is perfect and really does the material justice. And the writing itself is beautiful. Unreservedly recommended. A+
This is a very powerful story about the point of life. It illustrates, through an explanation of the life and death of the main character, Ivan, that we should all take a hard look at how we live our lives and our assumptions about that.
[SPOILER ALERTS from here on.] Ivan does everything seemingly right in his life. He studys hard, gets married to a women from the upper crust, has children, has many friends, is popular at work, entertains the high society folk, eventually becomes a judge, and fixes up his house, work, and social life so it's all very "comme il faut" (stylish and enviable).
Then he is struck with an illness which to me sounds a great deal like cancer. As it drags him slowly and irreversibly toward death, Ivan is mentally tortured. He cannot figure out why, beyond the obvious cold terror of his approaching demise, he is so misable, frustrated, and angry. By the end, he finally gets it. His life was, in the final analysis, wasted. Perhaps he could have died with more peace of mind had he focussed more on giving love and kindness to others. In his last moments he does a bit of that, though, and leaves the world with some measure of happiness.
Wow. Heavy stuff. But it certainly rings true. Your BMW won't come and visit you in the hospital and your kids will probably never say, "I wish dad was more distant and harsh and spent less time with me."
On a final note, Simon Prebble is a reallly fantastic narrator. He did this profound story justice in a way I think very, very few others might have been able to do. At the very end of this book and his marvellous narration of it, I was so moved I had to wipe away a tear or two.
I read this author's most famous book, the Master and Margarita, years ago. George Guidall narrated it excellently narrated and I really enjoyed it.
In this much shorter book, the author seems to spend a bit more time poking the (new) Soviet system in the eye. That must have been very, very risky business as the author lived during the Stalin era. Fortunately for him (and maybe for Stalin and us as well), Stalin liked the author’s work or at least respected his skill enough to spare him the fate of millions of other Russians Stalin was not as fond of.
If you liked the Master and Margarita, you should enjoy A Dog’s Heart. This is especially likely given how well this book is narrated by Roy McMillan. If you are into irreverent stories, surreal stuff, and Russian-style writing, or think you might be, then I highly recommend this book.
That said, The Master and Margarita is probably one of the most interesting books I’ve read and if you were only going to read one, I’d suggest the longer, weirder book, The M&M.