When I learned late last month that there was a new movie version of Erich Maria Remarque’s iconic 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front, it occurred to me to write an appreciation of the author.
I’ve read many of Remarque’s books, and as riveting as the war-themed/antiwar-themed All Quiet is, it’s not even my favorite work by the German-born writer. The novels of his that most bowled me over are Arch of Triumph, The Night in Lisbon, and A Time to Love and a Time to Die — not necessarily in that order.
Like most of Remarque’s works, those three books are set in or near wartime; paint a memorable sociopolitical picture; offer smooth, superb writing; feature three-dimensional protagonists with flaws; and often (though not always) break your heart. Yes, the horror, brutality, and dislocation of war is hell on so many individuals.
Arch of Triumph (1945) is about a surgeon who has escaped Nazi Germany for Paris, where he experiences all kinds of things — including an intense romance. The Night in Lisbon (1962) also has a refugee motif, with Portugal the setting in this case. A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1954) is about a German soldier (who does not have Nazi beliefs) living a lifetime during a short leave.
Yes, several terrific novels written over multiple decades.
Remarque was a firm antifascist, but had empathy for ordinary Germans caught up in the Nazi nightmare — and admiration for the people and countries fighting the monstrous Hitler regime.
Born in 1898, Remarque was a World War I draftee — which obviously gave him firsthand experience that would help inspire All Quiet on the Western Front. The future novelist was wounded during his military stint.
He went on to become a teacher, theater critic, ad copywriter, and more before writing All Quiet. It became an international bestseller — and earned him the ire of Nazis for the novel’s pacifism. Those fascists also hated 1930’s acclaimed All Quiet film, with storm troopers harassing moviegoers.
Remarque was forced to flee Germany for Switzerland in 1933. Several months later, pro-Nazi students publicly burned his books, and police removed his novels from German bookstores and libraries. The author moved to the United States in 1939. Four years later, his younger sister Elfriede was shockingly beheaded by the Nazis. Remarque spent the rest of his life exposing Nazi crimes in his writing and in other ways.
On the personal front, Remarque in 1958 married American actress Paulette Goddard (who had previously been wed to Charlie Chaplin). Earlier in his life, Remarque had a long relationship with famed German-born actress Marlene Dietrich.
Among Remarque’s other novels were 1952’s Spark of Life, set in a concentration camp; and 1956’s The Black Obelisk, set during the 1920s rise of Nazism. Both books are depressingly good, but in my opinion not quite at the level of the four I previously mentioned. There was also the so-so Shadows in Paradise, about German refugees in the U.S., published a year after Remarque’s 1970 death.
Any thoughts on the author and/or any of his works?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about a November 8 bond referendum to fund much-needed repairs and upgrades to my town’s aging school buildings — is here.