Erich Maria Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque
In Osnabrueck, Germany on June 22, 1898, Erich Paul Remark entered the world.  Born into a Roman Catholic family, Remark had two sisters and one older brother, but he died young.  His father was a bookbinder who barely kept the family clothed and fed, living in near poverty.  Father and son didn't have a close relationship, and as they moved eleven times in eighteen years, Remark didn't experience much stability in his life.

What stability he had came from his mother.  She encouraged his love of the countryside and allowed him to roam at will.  A gymnast, a daydreamer, and a musician, Remark could play the piano and the organ.  He also enjoyed writing, penning poems, essays, and starting a novel which he later published.  Deciding to become an elementary school teacher, Remark attended a Catholic teacher's college.  There he came into contact with people of similar interests and formed a group called the Dream Circle.  Finally Remark had found some stability, but it was short-lived.

The beginning of World War I changed his situation.  Drafted, Remark had to leave the school, his ill mother, and a woman he loved.  Though he served in the army and was often close to the front line, Remark never saw combat action.  Brave, nonetheless, Remark rescued an injured man and hauled him away from danger.  That the man died, despite all of Remark's efforts, affected Remark for the rest of his life.  He was also forced to deal with the deaths that had come to his mother and a mentor at the teaching college.  Shortly afterward, Remark sustained shrapnel injuries from long-range artillery shells and convalesced in a hospital almost until the war's end.  While his body healed, Remark discovered that he could never become a concert pianist because of his injuries.  He turned his attention instead to writing and painting.

After the war, Remark had some trouble dealing with all he had experienced and all that he had not.  As one armed to battle, Remark had never truly fought.  Thus he lived vicariously through his writing.  Remark's first book The Dream Room disappointed even himself and cost him quite a bit to self-publish it.  At the same time, though he had returned to the Catholic Seminary for Teachers and finished his schooling, Remark found that he wasn't meant for a teaching career.  Disappointment abounded.

First he changed his name to Erich Maria Remarque to honor his mother Maria and to reinstate the family name Remarque that his grandfather had earlier altered.  Then Remarque worked at a variety of jobs, from librarian to editor of a sports magazine to a tire company test driver to advertising copywriter.  He married in 1925 and by 1927 he wrote a novel that is still read today, All Quiet on the Western Front.  Initially the book lacked a publisher, but then it was released as a magazine serial before Ulstein Publishers bought it.  Once it came out as a book, the novel achieved almost overnight success.  Simple and direct in its language and told from a soldier's viewpoint, All Quiet on the Western Front addressed the cruelty and hardships of war.  World War I being the first mechanized war brought enormous death and destruction.  His experiences evoked pacifism from the author, which the Nazis who had gained control of Germany rejected.

Banning and burning his book, the Nazis slandered Remarque and in 1938 they revoked his citizenship.  With help from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarque found a home in the United States.  He ventured to Hollywood, continued to write solid novels, and then moved to New York.  Remarque resumed painting, having his work exhibited while he wrote his fifth book, Arch of Triumph, another best-seller.  Remarque loved Switzerland and spent most of his time there after he married actress Paulette Goddard in 1958.

Even after his death on September 25, 1970, Remarque is still most remembered for his  novel All Quiet on the Western Front.  The author of several other well-written books, Remarque told of Germany history from 1917 to 1945, yet the Germans do not acknowledge his successes.  Whereas the world praised Remarque, Germany felt mixed on his commentaries and viewpoints.  However, Remarque established himself as a writer of the common soldier and for that earned many a soldier's respect.


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All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
from Ballantine Books
War/Realistic Fiction for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: LIT7-20)