In The Road Back, Remarque answers the questions posed by Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front about what will happen to the youth who were caught up in World War I. In its simple structure, The Road Back recounts the traumatic times Birkholz and his friends experience. They return to a chaotic world in which inflation and profiteering are rampant and food is scarce. The returning soldiers are indeed superfluous, especially the disabled.
Within the narrative, suicide becomes the only solution for many like Ludwig Breyer and George Rahe; moreover, conditioned to killing and violence at the front, Albert Trosske, upon learning that his girlfriend has been unfaithful, calmly shoots her lover. Still, Remarque wishes to emphasize that despite the war and its aftereffects, life goes on, and thus people must re-establish purpose and meaning to their lives, an affirmation that becomes evident in Tjaden's marrying the butcher's daughter, in Willy Homeyer's becoming an excellent teacher, and especially in Birkholz's decision not to commit suicide and to build his own road back.
As is All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back is a war novel in one sense, but since it deals with how Birkholz and his friends adjust to the postwar world and re-establish purpose and meaning to their lives, the novel is closely aligned with those novels that are concerned with similar situations — Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926), John Dos Passos' 1919 (1932), and William Faulkner's Soldier's Pay (1926).
In 1937, United Artists produced a black-and-white film version of The Road Back starring Richard Cromwell, John King, Andy Devine, Noah Beery, Jr., Spring Byington, and Slim Summerville (Summerville also starred in All Quiet on the Western Front). Reviews tended to praise the film for its impressive sequences but conclude that it did not reach inspiring heights as did All Quiet on the Western Front.