An Appreciation of Erich Maria Remarque

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 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.

55 thoughts on “An Appreciation of Erich Maria Remarque

  1. Remarkable post,dear Astor!!But I have noticed that all matters of any novel seemed some different in the movie.I found that real taste of reading the novel is better then seeing the movie based on that.Is it not true,dear Astor!!Plz reply.❣️🙏❣️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susi! That IS an interesting (and “gossipy” 🙂 ) link. Remarque’s romantic life was definitely somewhat complicated. And I didn’t realize he was that rich and had such an amazing art collection!


      • Yeppers, he had a “wow what a haul” collection. Posting an additional link to another fantastic website re: hollywood. My mom and her sisters were all about reading those old movie magazines, like Silver Screen, which I poured over as a kid. Gotta say they proved to be more historical than histrionic (as in Kardashians and their ilk) ha. Thanks Dave. link:

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s been several years ago I read, All Quiet on the Western Front.
    I actually just saw clip of a remake of the film on Netflix. However, I’ve not watched it yet.
    I felt the book gave a solid and emotional and memorable account of a soldier in combat.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful tribute, Dave!
    I haven’t read his books, but have seen 3 of his 8 stories that were made into movies.
    Wow, “All Quiet on the Western Front” has been made into a movie 3 times now.
    Again, a wonderful tribute!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Another book that had great impact on contemporary readers post-WWI: 1934’s “Merchants of Death” by H. C. Engelbrecht and F. C. Hanighen, which treats the arms industry with the horror it deserved. Also inspired Congressional investigations, which pointed toward much, while coming to no actionable conclusions.

    Some amount of the pervasive anti-war isolationism in the US as WW2 was heating up can be traced to sentiments aroused by this book– somewhere among the tottering piles, I own a copy.

    Liked by 3 people

    • “Merchants of Death” does sound like a really consequential book, jhNY. I wonder if the authors coined the phrase that is the book’s title; it’s certainly a phrase that has endured over the years, describing arms manufacturers to a T.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Stopping by only long enough to admit I have read none of the books you cite, though I did see, a few times over the years, the 1930 movie of All Quiet”. So many books, so little etc.

    If i happen on a Remarque book in my wanderings among the itinerant book sellers on the street, I promise to acquire, and learn what I’ve missed.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Erich Maria Remarque is somehow always present here in Ticino, or Ronco sopra Ascona, where he has been buried in one of Switzerland’s most beautiful graveyards after his death in 1970 in Locarno, not far from my home. As you mention “Arc de Triomphe”, and that harrowing life story of Dr. Ravic, I looked for the book on my shelves and found it! I don’t intend to put it back, because already rereading the first page made it unputdownable! Thank you very much Dave for speaking about this exceptional writer.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. It was compulsory reading for me in high school, and it was devastating. It only increased my opposition to the Vietnam War and not being learned enough to judge its literary merit, I was averse to reading anything else by him. Thanks, Dave, for enlightening me about his writing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! “All Quiet on the Western Front” is devastating indeed, as are several of Remarque’s other novels. Glad you got to read “All Quiet” in high school, as disturbing as the experience might have been for a teen. And a great point that a book like “All Quiet” has a timeless relevance, whether to the Vietnam War back in the day, other wars, or various political things.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I read “All Quiet on the Western Front” as an assignment, and as sometimes happens with reading you’re forced to do, I don’t think I appreciated it and it left me with little interest in the author. I get the sense that those might be two mistakes. Thank you for this post. I will reconsider this author.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Dan! I know what you mean about how one’s feelings about a book can be colored by being forced to read it rather than reading it voluntarily. If you do try Remarque again, I hope you like whichever novel you choose!

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Thank you, Dave, for a profound discussion on Erich Maria Remarque’s life and his unforgettable work. I read “All Quiet on the Western Front” this year based on our previous discussions. As you know, I had been hesitant because I recognized that it would be a difficult read. Remarque wrote of a specific war and yet, what I discovered was “All Quiet” was a universal cry of despair for all humanity. I had to put down the book when I read these words,”We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.”

    Your thoughts are especially meaningful to me today. We are at the beginning of the week when we prepare for Remembrance Day in Canada, November 11, 2022.

    My quote that I leave today comes from War & Peace, which I have just finished. It is in the form of a question.

    “the same question arose in every soul: “For what, for whom, must I kill and be killed?

    Another thoughtful discussion that will feed my thoughts in the coming week.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca, for the profound and eloquent words. Yes, “All Quiet on the Western Front” — as well as Remarque’s other novels — are both specific and universal. One of his strengths as a writer. And those books tell ugly truths in beautiful prose.

      Congratulations on finishing “War and Peace”!!! Great accomplishment! And a great lament from Tolstoy that you quoted.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Dave, thanks for bringing this author to our attention. I’ve added “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” to my To Read List. I decided not to watch the latest war movie, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” as a refusal to become immersed, yet again, in our senseless violence towards each other on the front lines.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene! “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” is quite a reading experience. And I hear you about war movies; very painful to watch. War novels are certainly painful, too, but a little less in one’s face than films. And it helps when war novels, such as Remarque’s, are in fact anti-war.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. I have always loved the expression “You may not can judge a book by the cover, but that ‘s certainly the reason you pick it up.” That is why I read A Time to Love and A Time to Die. What an intriguing title! Amazing book! I read it in high school and need to read it again!

    Liked by 5 people

  12. HI Dave, I really enjoyed All Quiet on the Western Front but have not yet read any other books by this author. I do have intentions to read them. In found this quote very powerful: “He lies there for a while without a word. Then he says, ‘You can take my flying boots for Müller.’ I nod and try to think of something to say that will cheer him up. His lips are pallid, his mouth has got bigger and his teeth look very prominent, as if they were made of chalk. His flesh is melting away, his forehead is higher, his cheekbones more pronounced. The skeleton is working its way to the surface. His eyes are sinking already. In a few hours it will all be over.” I’ve also shared it to FB. Somehow, this description of the dying lad really impacted me.

    Liked by 7 people

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