The German author Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970) was a popular novelist whose "All Quiet on the Western Front" was the most successful German best seller on the subject of the soldier's life in World War I.
Erich Maria Remarque whose real name was Erich Paul Remark, was born on July 22, 1898, in Osnabrück. He attended the Teachers' Training College there and afterward the University of Münster. Toward the end of World War I he served in the army. After the war he worked variously as a press reader, clerk, and racing driver. The immense success of Im Westen nichts Neues (1929; All Quiet on the Western Front) established him as an author. This novel falls into a clearly distinguishable class of antiwar and antimilitary fiction that grew rapidly in Germany in the later 1920s—Arnold Zweig's Sergeant Grischa is another famous example. These books belong in general to that school known as neorealism and are characterized by a matter-of-fact, unpretentious, often colloquial style approximating the newspaper or magazine report.
Although Remarque conceals little of the squalor and bloodiness of life in the trenches, at the same time there is in this book an undeniable sentimental vein which is maintained strongly right through to the pathetic last pages, in which, following the death of his friend, the hero himself falls 2 weeks before the armistice, on a day when all is reported quiet at the front. This novel was translated into some 25 languages and has sold over 30 million copies.
Remarque continued in a similar vein with another war novel, Der Weg zurück (1931; The Road Back). Drei Kameraden (1937; Three Comrades) deals with life in post-war Germany at the time of the inflation and is also a tragic love story. By 1929 Remarque had left Germany and from that time lived abroad. The pacifism implicit in his works and their strong sense of pathos and suffering could scarcely endear them to the Nazi government. In 1938, in fact, Remarque was deprived of his German citizenship. In 1939 he arrived in the United States and became an American citizen in 1947. His next novel, Liebe deinen Nächsten (1940), was published in America under the title Flotsam. After World War II Remarque's productivity increased, and he turned more and more to the study of personal relationships set against a topical background of war and social disintegration. Arc de Triomphe (1946), the story of a German refugee surgeon in Paris just before World War II, reestablished his name in the best-seller lists. His later works include Zeit zu leben und Zeit zu sterben (1954; A Time to Love and a Time to Die), Der schwarze Obelisk (1956; The Black Obelisk), Der Funke Leben (1957; Spark of Life), Der Himmel kennt keine Günstlinge (1961; Heaven Has No Favorites), and Die Nacht von Lissabon (1962; The Night in Lisbon). All these novels are competent and gripping narratives and are skillful stories of personal crisis, escape, adventure, and intrigue. Remarque also had one play produced, Die letzte Station (1956; The Last Station). He died in Locarno, Switzerland, on Sept. 25, 1970.
Further Reading on Erich Maria Remarque
Despite his immense popularity there have been no general studies of Remarque in English or German. His career is briefly summarized in Harry T. Moore, Twentieth-century German Literature (1967). Useful for general background is Ernst Rose, A History of German Literature (1960).