After I finished FiveChildren on the Western Front I couldn't help thinking about the allusion, and I decided to re-read Remarque. As It turned out, it was one of those books that you believe you have read when you actually haven't. I know I read Three Comrades as teenager, and possibly The Black Obelisk because I remember the cover of the book in Russian. But apparently I had not read All Quiet on the Western Front, and I am glad I hadn't because I know I wouldn't have liked it and wouldn't have understood much. It is a slow read, and when you are young you have no patience for slow reads. It must be something neuroscientists still have to explain, but teenage brains just cannot cope with slow and deep reading.
But now I am mature enough and in the right mood to enjoy this wonderful and terrible book which I haven't seen mentioned a lot in the centenary discussions. I also see clearly where Kate Saunders has got her ideas from. Although of course for the English soldiers it wasn't the Western front. It was the one and only front.
It is hard to believe that All Quiet on the Western Front was written so long ago. It feels as if it was written today. First-person, present tense. And a disturbingly postmodern ending.
I also thought that today it might have been marketed as a Young Adult novel – the protagonist is nineteen – but YA didn't exist then. And the novel is exactly about being forced from childhood into adulthood. And the author lets the protagonist die rather than grow up disillusioned.
It was an extraordinary reading experience and completely serendipitous.