Excellent fiction drenched with history, but lots of war-related violence and some sexual content.
(Note: English translation by A.W. Wheen.)
Paul is a boy fresh out of school, but he's an old soul: he has experienced much, seen and heard more, and will never be the same. This is a tale of comradeship, honour, and courage from the German side of the death and destruction of World War I.
Plenty of camaraderie to go around. Family is viewed in a very good light. Paul takes compassion on and shares his cigarettes and a couple potato cakes with some prisoners. He also tries to help a wounded and dying enemy.
Paul lies to a friend's mom about how her son died. He lies to another friend about where he had been shot. He then lies to a nurse about his medical condition in order to stay with his friend. A different soldier reports himself for a slight misconduct even though he wasn't the offender; this he says he's willing to do as he has a "shooting license" saying that he's periodically not responsible for his actions.
A few soldiers discuss the whys and wherefores of war.
At a Catholic hospital, the sisters say prayers, leaving infirmary doors open so the soldiers can get their share of it. When soldiers complain of wanting the doors closed so they can sleep, it's only once they make a real fuss that they manage to get the door closed. One sister calls them heathens as she does so.
As this is a World War I book, war violence is to be expected. Though things are stated as simple fact and most are not gory, some described injuries and deaths may perturb sensitive readers. There is blood (including a fountain of blood at one point), broken bones, shots, vicious stabbings and slicings (these by bayonet), the effects of gas, exploded bodies (two of which one character says could be scraped up with a spoon and buried in a food tin), appendages and a head blown off, insides being held from open wounds, even an amputation. The force of trench mortars literally blows bodies (and parts thereof) out of clothes. One soldier stabs another in a pre-emptive attack, feeling the body convulse and hearing the gurgling that follows until he eventually dies. A surgeon pulls out a piece of shrapnel from a soldier's leg and tosses it to him. One soldier threatens to shoot himself if his leg is amputated; another rams a fork into his chest.
A few horses are wounded and shot. One man dies in the main character's arms, another is shot out of his misery. A soldier tries to stun two geese (not very successfully); one is killed later. A guard dog seems about ready to attack viciously. The hazing/retaliation mentioned above is obviously very painful. When new recruits get claustrophobic and panic, they have to be bodily forced to stay put, even with physical discipline and binding down.
An anti-German pamphlet claims that the Germans eat Belgian children. A soldier responds by saying that those who write such lies should hang themselves.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Lots of smoking and some consumption of rum, beer, and cognac. An anti-tetanus shot is administered.
There are multiple mentions of soldiers being naked, often in full view of others, but not in a sexual context.
Some men tease another about the potential size of his girl back home based on a comment he made; his reaction is to grin at the attention. Another says that he'd like to find a "buxom dame", go straight to bed, and stay there for a week. Three soldiers, including the main character, swim nude in front of three women and rendezvous with them that night (the most we see of that is kissing). Four men check out a poster featuring a gorgeous girl and tear off the man in the image in a sort of jealousy. One man at one point laments a lack of "girls from an officer's brothel".
It's said that "when a man gets his wife again after such a long time, if at all possible, the man wants something more [than just seeing her] besides." One soldier receives advice about where he can take his visiting wife undisturbed. The same group giving him advice later covers for the couple, standing guard, propping him up (as he is wounded), making noise to mask theirs - all whilst being in the same room and simply looking away.
Conditions for a group of prisoners have become so bad that it's mentioned that they don't masturbate any more.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Several swears scattered throughout, mostly "d--ned". A few exclamations of "God!" "Sh-t" is said a few times, usually in its original context; "t-rd" once.
There are a couple times in which a couple characters openly pass gas. Another "ventilates his backside" at someone he hates; another laughingly suggests that someone can read their regiment numbers on their backsides as they retreat.
A new recruit is so frightened that he dirties his underwear during his first shelling, something that is common among the newbies.
A group of characters haze/retaliate against a man they despise, covering his head, hitting and pushing him, making it difficult for him to breathe, and giving him a hiding.
Though a work of fiction, Remarque's characters come to life with the reality upon which the story is based, from soldiers' banter and discussion to the gritty details of warfare. If you're looking for a well-rounded depiction of the First World War, this may be what you're looking for. In addition to this, All Quiet on the Western Front provides the western reader a sincere tale from other side: "But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. ... If we threw away these rifles and this uniform, you could be my brother...."
However, even with its virtues, the violence and sexual portions may give potential readers good cause to hesitate or leave this book on the shelf.