The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

dorianWhat would you give for perfection? Would you sacrifice your money? Your possessions? Happiness? How about your soul? Think twice, because perfection is impossible. What may outwardly appear as perfection is never so. Underneath a pristine surface will always be found some form of corruption or imperfection.

Oscar Wilde explores the idea of perfection, beauty, sin, hedonism, accountability, and aestheticism through The Picture of Dorian Gray. When the story was first published in an 1890 edition of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, it received a lot of backlash due to content deemed “objectionable”, ““vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous”, and “discreditable” by the British press. However, the version published in the magazine had already been heavily edited by a Lippincott editor without Oscar Wilde’s knowledge, and was further edited before its publication in book form in 1891. The first unedited version was not published until 120 years after the story’s initial publication. Why was Dorian Gray so heavily edited? Due to the excesses, corruption, and indulgences held within its pages. The beauty of the novel lies within this very decadence.

The story centers around three main characters: Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, and Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward is an artist who develops an infatuation for Dorian Gray, a young member of London high society who often sits for his paintings. Lord Henry is an established society member and friend of Basil’s whose entire moral code is based on his conviction that “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”. When he asks Basil about Dorian, the artist responds that he “knew that [he] had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if [he] allowed it to do so, it would absorb [his] whole nature, [his] whole soul, [his] very art itself”, and passionately states that Dorian “is all [his] art to [him] now”. Lord Henry asks to meet Dorian, but Basil resists, insisting that Lord Henry is sure to corrupt him with his hedonistic values.

Despite Basil’s objections, Lord Henry and Dorian meet. That very afternoon, Basil finishes a portrait of Dorian that he believes to be the most beautiful work he has ever created. While admiring it, Dorian states that he wishes his physical self could remain as lovely and untouched by sin as the portrait, while the painting ages and corrupts. Dorian’s wish is granted, and he subsequently falls into a life of sin and opulence. As the years pass, his obsessions over the painting tear him apart from the inside, while his appearance remains spotless.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, of course, carries all the trademark wit and mastery of Oscar Wilde. There is an epigram on practically every page (a notable one is “we can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless”), and the dialogue is clever, thought-provoking, and at times humorous. Every word in the novel is deliberate, and Wilde’s prose is lyrical and absolutely beautiful. The Picture of Dorian Gray reaches into the (deep and dark) depths of the human soul and examines what is to be found there while asking a question – what does it take for man to become monster?

Reviewed by Tara F ’18

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Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison

invIt is a universal experience for humans to battle with the solidification of our identities and the experience of self-exploration varies among each individual. For the main character of Ralph Ellison’s novel ​Invisible Man​, the struggle to define his identity is his greatest challenge.

From his education-driven life in the South, to the hustle and bustle of Harlem, the protagonist recounts the difficulties of self-discovery and establishing his purpose in life. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Ellison’s novel is that the protagonist’s name is never revealed to the reader. One’s name is arguably the most notable factor of their identity and it is given to you when you first enter this world in order to establish your singularity and character. Not only does the main character feel as though he is invisible, but Ellison’s decision to emit his name from the entirety of the novel relates enhances this belief and allows the main character’s struggle to define his identity to become a firsthand experience for the reader.

We become very familiar with the main character’s interests and qualities, yet despite this familiarity, we never learn his name which causes him to remain slightly foreign to us. One of the most renowned moments of Invisible Man​ is Ellison’s vivid description of the infamous “Battle Royale” which reduced young black men to animals. The main character and the other participants in the Battle Royale were forced to brutalize each other for the enjoyment of wealthy, white men. This moment displayed how the dehumanization of black men in this time period were so easily dehumanized and taken advantage of. ​Invisible Man​ is a difficult read as it confronts various instances of

racism and the difficulties surrounding defining one’s identity. Although it is a challenging read, the detail and descriptiveness are profound and overall I recommend this novel.

Reviewed by Sharde J ’18

Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

phanOriginally published in French, The Phantom of The Opera is a Gothic romance novel that tells the story of the young and talented Swedish singer Christine Daaé and the struggle between Raoul de Chagny, the Viscount of Chagny and Christine’s childhood friend, and Erik, otherwise known as the Phantom of the Opera, to attain Christine’s love.
Throughout the book, the readers can see time and again the burden that is laid upon Christine by her crazy “lovers.” To quote the narrator:
Then Christine gave way to fear. She trembled lest Erik should discover where Raoul was
hidden; she told us in a few hurried words that Erik had gone quite mad with love and that he had decided to kill everybody and himself with everybody if she did not consent to become his wife.

As the title suggested, Erik is the main character of the book, but Christine is no doubt
the character that has to sacrifice the most. She has to mediate the jealousy of both of her lovers and keep them and their egos from exploding, She is a genuinely kind woman who is willing to suffer in order to protect the feelings and interests of others and does not take her frustration out on anyone but herself.

It seems at many points that the Persian, a rather mysterious character coming from
Erik’s past is the main character. He is the unexpected hero, saving himself, Raoul and Christine, successfully convincing Erik to leave Christine alone and saving the day. However, the Persian is not treated with the kind of appreciation and love he deserves. In many theatrical and filmic renditions of the novel, the Persian was omitted entirely. Raoul, on the other hand, remains a stubborn, spoiled and selfish young man. He obtains what he wants at the end of the book, but only at the expense of other people’s life, sacrifice of love and emotional and physical turmoil.

Reviewed by Nghi L. ’18

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

crimeFyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous novel Crime and Punishment draws the reader into the unstable mind of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a poor student in 1860s St. Petersburg, as he contemplates the murder of a cruel and suspicious old pawnbroker. Raskolnikov tries to face the moral dilemma he is forced into by his murderous intent by using philosophical theories to justify his actions… or was his intent based on his theories to begin with? And what is the real punishment for a criminal, the punishment enacted by law or the guilt and psychological torment a criminal faces? It’s definitely not light reading.

The story opens with Raskolnikov leaving his apartment, taking great care to avoid his landlady, and coming out into the street. “I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles,” he thinks to himself, his monologue already revealing a conflicted and morally grey character. He isn’t sure yet whether he will do anything, or if he is even able to do that, asking “Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is that serious? It is not serious at all. It’s simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything.” But Raskolnikov already has a plan.

While considering that, Raskolnikov meets a drunkard named Marmeladov in a bar. Marmeladov tells him about his family and how they are suffering because of Marmeladov’s alcoholism and inability to keep a job. Raskolnikov eventually becomes closer to Marmeladov’s family, including his daughter, Sonia, who is a virtuous woman who was forced into prostitution to help her family. Raskolnikov’s own family also plays a role: his mother and sister travel to St. Petersburg after his sister gets engaged to a businessman, Mr. Luzhin. And, of course,

Raskolnikov’s loyal friend Razumikhin. The characters are complex, and how much sympathy a reader has for any character depends on the reader, not unlike how different people see others differently. The characters embody both the best and the worst of humanity; there are no perfectly pure angels and no truly evil devils.

Crime and Punishment is a deeply stressful read. The language, heavy themes, and psychology make it difficult to read, which is perfect for a book dealing with difficulty in every sense. Dostoyevsky is a masterful writer: the reader feels the pressures of guilt and anxiety on Raskolnikov, and the dark mood makes the very pages seem shadowed. This, along with the conflicting and complex chatacters and moral grey areas make it a book that evokes a range of reactions from a range of readers. It’s worth reading Crime and Punishment just to see how you react, who you sympathize with, what your perspective on each dilemma is. It forces any reader to think, and take a good look at society and at their own perspective. Where do you stand?

Review by Kayleen M. ’18

And Then There Were None

 

agatha.jpgThe world’s best-selling mystery, And Then There Were None was published on 6 November, 1939 and was commented as “the most baffling mystery that Agatha Christie has ever written” by The New York Times. In the novel, ten strangers are invited as weekend guests to a private island off the coast of Devon, call the Indian Island. They all hold different occupations including a judge, a mistress, a soldier, a doctor, and a former inspector, but they are all lured into coming to the island for offers of employment, to spend their summer time, or to meet old friends. Their host, an eccentric millionaire unknown to all of them, however, is nowhere to be found on the island. As each of the guests has been charged with a murder in the past, one by one becomes murdered eventually. After three days, all ten guests are found dead, and there are no one else on the Indian Island. So who killed them?

That’s the question that Christie makes us think about throughout the novel. The word “queer” is used more than 30 times in total since everything on the island indeed is very queer to the guests. They discover that no one actually knows the millionaire host, the Owens, and conclude that the name “U.N. Owen” is shorthand for “Unknown.” After dinner on the first night, a gramophone record is played, and an unknown voice reveals the wicked past of each guest and accuses each of a guilty secret, and soon one of the guests is dead. To make the whole thing of murdering more interesting, the murderer follows a nursery rhyme as closely as possible, and there are ten little soldier figures on the dinner table representing the ten prey. As soon as one victim dies, one china figure disappears too. It is intriguing to me as a reader that the rhythm gives a clue about what is going to happen to the next person, but I still found it completely puzzling and surprising when the next one dies. Same for the characters. Each time a murder happens, only the result of a death is shown in the text, but the process is never described or mentioned. Neither the other characters nor the readers have any ideas about how the victims are killed. The “ten little Indians” cannot fight their fate.

As there are ten characters thinking and acting in the story at the same time, it could be hard for the readers to distinguish between them clearly, but Christie does a wonderful. While reading, I was able to match the ten guests with their ten different jobs and their secret stories in the past. Each of the ten has a sub-plot for how the person directly or indirectly caused others’ death and what the person feels about it. Anthony Marston, a handsome but amoral and irresponsible young man, killed two young children while driving recklessly, for which he felt no guilt or personal responsibility at all, complaining only that his driving license was suspended as a result. Vera Claythorne, a young, efficient mistress, deliberately allowed the child she taught as a private teacher to swim out to sea and pretended to swim out too to “save” the boy but in fact let him drown. She did that with intentions that she believed good because her lover, the boy’s uncle, could become the family heir, inherit the estate and marry her. When the guests come together, for example for a meal, their thoughts inside are described in turn from a third-person omniscient point of view. After Christie writes that “six people, all outwardly self-possessed and normal. And within? Thoughts that ran round in a circle like squirrels in a cage…” she displayed their thoughts each in a short paragraph in italics. All the characters thus are portrayed very three-dimensional in their own ways.

And Then There Were None is not only widely considered as Agatha Christie’s masterpiece but also described by herself as the most difficult of her books to write. She said in her autobiography that “I had written the book… because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me. Ten people had to die without it becoming ridiculous or the murderer being obvious. I wrote the book after a tremendous amount of planning, and I was pleased with what I had made of it.” She crafted the language with a really clear, straightforward, yet baffling style throughout the book. I found it easy-to-read, but I was still able to feel the intense and mysterious atmosphere and was captivated and stimulated every moment I read it. And Then There Were None is special because it’s a mystery without a detective — no Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple to make sense of things like they do in other Christie novels. She ingeniously includes a manuscript document recounted by the actual murderer after the epilogue. The murderer confides the crime processes and the true intent behind: to punish the guilty ones that are not convicted. It is said that “…there were many cases of a similar nature going on all the time—cases of deliberate murder—and all quite untouchable by the law,” which reveals the profound meaning underlying all the murders on the Indian Island. I was touched to see such a just mission that the murderer carried out.

If you are a mystery fan or simply intrigued by the plot thus far, And Then There Were None, an undoubtedly outstanding work by the Queen of Crime, is highly recommended. You should go read it; otherwise, you only “will find ten dead bodies and an unsolved problem on Indian Island.”

Reviewed by Nina X ’18

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

aldousIn “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley constructs a futuristic dystopia where every human is born, or grown to be exact, on assembly lines, conditioned and ranked, from tall and intelligent Alphas who run everything to midget and foolish Epsilons who clean up. Others, Betas, Gammas and Deltas, take their places in between. Despite their differences, all World State’s citizens are taught to be content with their roles through hypnopedia, have complete sexual freedom without the constraints of monogamy and grow up in the absence of books, arts, individual freedom and human connections. The World State’s motto is stated loud and clear on the first page, “Community. Identity. Stability.”

In the World State, the government exerts totalitarian control through genetic engineering and prenatal conditioning. Bernard Marx is an Alpha whose blood surrogate was contaminated with alcohol, a process used to hinder the physical growth of the lower castes, causing him to be much smaller than a typical Alpha. He has a strong resentment for the system because his un-Alpha-like stature makes him an outcast in the society. Somehow, Bernard manages to convince Lenina, an attractive Beta Minus, to visit the Savage Reservation, where people who still breed naturally live, with him. Here he met and brought John, aka the Savage, back to the World State. The rest of the novel tells the journey of the Savage in a world where “Everyone belongs to everyone else.”

John is most troubled by the World State’s residents’ dependence on soma, a drug used by the government to maintain social order and to help its users escape from any negative human emotions such as sadness, pain, anger, jealousy and discomfort; it is described as “Christianity without tears.” Later in the novel John meets with Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers, and through their discussion, Huxley reveals his criticism for the exorbitant consumerism and pleasure-seeking lifestyle of the 1920s.

“‘But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.’

‘In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.’
‘All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.’ ‘Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis

and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’”

The people use soma whenever they experience feelings or encounter problems they were not conditioned to deal with. By getting rid of all diseases and negative human emotions, the World Controllers also rid its residents of many of the human connections, pleasures and passions in life. They believe they’re happy all the time, but is there really pleasure without pain?

Huxley did not construct a totally unrealistic dystopia. He takes the most gruesome aspects of our society, exaggerates them and creates the World State. After finishing the book, I am left with perplexing questions rather than definite conclusions. Stability and equality clearly depend on an unequal distribution of labor and intelligence, “even Epsilons perform indispensable services;” doesn’t that go directly against our democratic ideal that all men are created equal? After all, the dissident Bernard Marx and the philosopher Karl Marx don’t happen to have the same last name for no reason.

Reviewed by Nghi ’18

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

rayRay Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a middle age man in a 24th century dystopian society. The main protagonist, Guy Montag, is first found working as a firefighter, burning the illegally owned books as well as their owner’s houses, where he seems to glorify his profession in the flames of destruction until he meets seventeen year old girl called Clarisse McClellan. He finds her optimistic and unusual way of thinking intriguing and she comments that his attention to her is different from how other people view her. From then on, they meet regularly and have various conversations about society and the past, which make Guy question the rules of society and why they are afraid of letting certain books be exposed to the public.

In order to find out what the authorities want gone, Guy begins to steal books from the houses he is sent to burn. He later meets a man called, Faber a retired professor, who discusses with Guy the importance of sharing ideas through books. However, his wife discovers the stash of books along with her husband’s unusual behavior, resulting in their house being burned down after she reports to the other firefighters. Guy decides to flee to Faber with his scavenged books that he hid in his backyard in hopes of creating more copies of books and sharing them with society at a safer time.

Reviewed by Intisar K ’18

Amerika by Franz Kafka

franzWhen somebody thinks of Franz Kafka, their mind immediately goes to “Metamorphosis” or “The Judgment” while “America”, or “The Man Who Disappeared” is often overlooked. The novel differentiates itself from others, as it gives a new perspective on Kafka and his style. His description of America is based purely on what he read and learned through the books, lectures, and conversations with immigrants, as he never had a chance to visit. Kafka creates a new imaginary country, very different from the real world. Its first impressions on both the main character and the reader can be seen from the very beginning of the book.

The main character, Karl Rossmann, is a sixteen-year-old boy, who gets sent to America to avoid a huge scandal concerning the main character and a maid who got pregnant after she has “seduced” him. Only later, from Rossmann’s description, do we find out it was a rape. “…pressed her naked belly against his body…in such a revolting manner that Karl shook his head and throat out from under the quilts…”. Such imagery very clearly shows that the experience has now become a very unpleasant memory for Karl. This event sets the way the main character acts throughout the rest of the story—in a helpless state, he then lets everyone use him.

Upon his arrival to America, Karl, while searching for his forgotten possessions, meets a stocker and learns his story, which leads to both of them going to the captain to fight for justice for Karl’s new friend. During this event, the main character accidentally meets his rich uncle Jacob, who decides to take the young boy under his wing. At first, everything is perfect. Karl enjoys his newfound privileges, like the opportunity to learn English with a teacher, or play the piano, or ride a horse. However, one night changes everything. One of uncle Jacob’s dearest friends, Mr. Pollunder, invites Karl to spend some time at his house. Although the main character asks for permission, his uncle is displeased, and at midnight the very next day he informs Rossmann through a letter that he cannot tolerate such behavior and asks to never contact him again.

This event marks a new part of Karl’s life. He immediately leaves Mr. Pollunder’s house and heads to the nearest hotel, where he meets Robinson and Delamarche, two very poor men headed to Butterford in search of a job. Karl feels obligated to them, as they invite him to join them on their journey, and allows them to mistreat him. It can be seen how uncomfortable the main character is as he experiences bullying and a robbery from his new “comrades”. One of the very first incidents happens with salami that Karl brought from home. His new friends quickly find out about the treasured possession and demand to share. The main character does, but it turns into an unpleasant event, as he does not get a single piece “It seemed silly to beg for a piece, but he began to feel bitter.”. Similar situations keep happening, but Karl, in fear of being left alone, does not say a thing.

Soon, a new opportunity rises. After yet another fight with Robinson and Delamarche, Karl decides to end his journey with them and leaves for a hotel nearby. There, a Manageress, a nice lady in her fifties, suggests a job, which the main character happily takes. For some time, Karl’s life is busy with work, and newfound friends, especially the Manageress and Therese, an eighteen-year-old typist, whom he tries to visit as often as possible. However, his happiness does not last long as soon as Robinson visits him in the hotel and persuades him to come and visit him and Delamarche, as they now live with Brunelda, a singer. After his old friend’s visit at the hotel, Karl loses his job over something he did not do. He goes to his old comrades, and Brunelda, their host, makes Rossmann her server. However, this job does not last long, as Karl leaves again and, finally, finds himself a job in the Theater of Oklahoma, where he decides to go under a new name—Negro.

The book leaves us with a beautiful description of the view outside of the train cart “Masses of blue-black rock rose in sheer wedges to the railway line; even craning one’s neck out of the window, one could not see their summits; narrow, gloomy, jagged valleys opened out…”. Left with expectations and questions, the reader is left to wonder what happened to Karl, if he finds the strength to stand up for himself and change, or does he remain the same and soon flee the theater company.

“Amerika” intertwines the gravity of the described situation with the humorous notes that often can be found in Kafka’s works. While having many comic moments, the books manages to address serious issues, such as the reality of the lives of immigrants, the hardships of lives of commoners, and other Kafkaesque themes that are traced through all of his works.

The author started working on the novel in 1912, however, it was only published in 1927, three years after his death.

Reviewed by Yulia ’18

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (trans. John Ciardi)

galtImagine your most vivid picture of hell. Are there “great flakes of flame” and “horned demons with enormous lashes”, or do you see “a lake so frozen it seem[s] to be made of glass” and “a thousand faces discolored by the cold”? Dante Alighieri’s Inferno encompasses both these visions and more. The first book of his three-part epic poetry cycle begins in a mysterious, unknown wood and continues along the path through hell, spanning nine circles of varying degrees. Dante is guided by the poet Virgil through the entire structure of hell, witnessing the punishment of friends and enemies, figures famous and infamous.

Although some of Dante’s 14th-century references are lost on the modern reader, explanatory notes provide some help in this regard. Some names and stories have faded, other souls whom Dante encounters are still very much remembered in our times: you have probably heard of Judas Iscariot or of Achilles, condemned to the ninth and second circles, respectively, but probably aren’t as well acquainted with Pope Nicholas III, whom Dante places in the eighth circle for corruption of the church. But both known and unknown add to the reading experience. Notes on forgotten characters provide an intriguing level of detail and a historical glimpse into the moment of the poem’s creation, while familiar names and faces allow the reader to connect with the author and audience of this admittedly very old poem.

The horror story element comes largely from the horrifying creativity of the punishments of Hell: some disgusting, some painful, some psychologically twisted (for example, the punishment of the fortune-tellers, condemned to walk backwards with their heads having been reversed on their bodies). Another point of interest specific to the modern reader is comparing this conception of hell to that of present-day popular culture: for example, while Dante’s hell does include the now-standard fire and brimstone, the deepest circle where the worst of traitors suffer is frozen in ice and darkness. This discrepancy and change over time is interesting from an academic perspective, but also makes the poem more engaging, as the experiences of Dante’s hellish journey remain startling and fresh. The style of the Inferno also contributes to a surprisingly gripping reading experience. Even in translation, the poetic rhythm of the work makes the at times dense language move naturally and quickly. The flow of sentences between short stanzas makes the entire journey feel continuous, as if the reader is walking with Dante and Virgil along the winding roads of hell.

While Dante’s Inferno is challenging and requires focus and attention to footnotes, the combination of historical perspective with still-relevant shock makes reading this epic poem worthwhile.

Reviewed by Caroline G. ’18

All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen Nichts Neues) by Erich Maria Remarque

quiet“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.”

Erich Maria Remarque’s novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” begins with this epitaph, which summarizes the author’s intent in writing the novel. Remarque was born in 1898 to a lower-class family in Germany. While at University studying to be a teacher, he was drafted into the German army, where he fought, and was later wounded. He wrote “All Quiet on the Western Front” in 1927 based off his own experiences and those of his comrades, for the reasons stated in the epitaph. The novel was wildly popular, especially in the US, which made a movie adaptation in 1930. Later, the book was banned by the Nazis because of the anti-war sentiment, and Remarque escaped to the US.

The novel starts with the narrator Paul and his company coming back from the front line (where most of the fighting took place), and enjoying a good meal after days of hard fighting. The soldiers are excited because they get double rations because half the company has been killed or injured. Despite these casualties, after eating his fill, Paul states, “We are satisfied and at peace,” leaving anyone who, like me, has not experienced the horrors of war to wonder what could have caused the soldiers to be so emotionless about the deaths of so many comrades and friends.

Then, Remarque brings the reader up to the front lines, seeing the war through Paul’s eyes as he runs for cover from a shelling, endures poison gas attacks, uses a corpse as cover while getting attacked in a graveyard, and debates putting a mortally wounded 18-year-old recruit out of his misery, “Shouldn’t we just take a revolver and put an end to it?”

This novel is intended to make the reader uncomfortable. The descriptions of rat-infested trenches and gory wounds made me squirm (“we see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces”), but the descriptions of psychological pain were more unpleasant. One example is when Paul and his comrades are forced to listen to the cries of wounded horses. Paul describes the sound of the screams penetrating through their ears “It is not men, they could not cry so terribly.” Another example of psychological pain is when Paul pulls out the pocketbook of a French soldier he has just killed to find the letters to the man’s wife and child. It is one of the few moments he shows grief in the book, but within a few hours he buries his emotions and turns back into the soldier he has had to become.

However, the novel is not completely filled with horror and destruction. There are many scenes of Paul and his comrades hanging out and joking around. The simple language used in these scenes contrasts Paul’s more poetic narration. These scenes of dialogue also serve to humanize soldiers who lived on a different continent a century ago. While reading the dialogue between these men, I was reminded that, for the most part, they were just three years older than me.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is interesting in part because it is written from the perspective of someone on the losing side of a major war. But the experiences described in the novel can be generalized to all sides. After Paul kills the French soldier, he realizes the similarity of their experiences, wondering, “Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

The title “All Quiet on the Western Front” is ironic. In the original German, it is, “Im Westen Nichts Neues”, which directly translates to, “In the West, Nothing New.” The army report for the day on which one of the main characters dies contains these words. In 1918 in France, death was nothing new.

I would recommend this novel for anyone who wants to learn more about the life of average soldiers during World War I. However, I would not recommend reading it if you are sensitive to gory descriptions, because there were quite a few of those. It was definitely an emotionally difficult read, but a worthwhile one.

Reviewed by Katie F. ’18