A welcome life of the German writer, the first in English, best known in his time and now for the classic novel All Quiet on the Western Front.
English biographer and novelist Tims never quite explains why Remarque (1898–1970) should merit renewed interest today, when almost all of his books have long since gone out of print in English translation. Still, he observes, German readers are rediscovering Remarque, who wrote plenty of frothy romances alongside his classic cri de antiguerre. “It would have given him a rueful satisfaction to know that it is in Germany that his work and reputation are nowadays held in the highest reputation,” Tims rightly observes, for Remarque was one of the first non-Jewish writers to attract the wrath of the Nazi regime; his books were banned and burned for their supposed defeatism, while Hitler’s propagandists chortled that Remarque (or “Remark,” as the writer rendered his name well into adulthood) was an anagram for Kramer. (It was not.) Driven into exile—though a luxurious one—in neighboring Switzerland, Remarque, who had bought himself a nobleman’s rank and had aristocratic leanings, did not vigorously or vocally oppose the Nazis; even so, his Aryan status having been proven to the satisfaction of the authorities, he wisely refused entreaties on the part of Hermann Goering to return to Germany and take on a job as Minister of Culture for Prussia. Instead, Remarque relocated to Hollywood, where he wrote a few scripts and earned local renown for conducting a series of affairs with the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Paulette Goddard (whom he later married). That Remarque was never a great writer is a point that Tims successfully evades, and he unwisely attributes negative reviews in the postwar German press not to the possibility that the books in question weren’t good, but to “habitual German hostility towards the world-famous author.”
Nonetheless, the author offers evidence for Remarque’s basic decency—and for why All Quiet on the Western Front should be remembered today, even if its author is not.