Thursday, February 15, 2007

Remark about Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque (né Erich Paul Remark) was the author of various mostly autobiographically-based novels, most famously Im Westen nichts neues [All Quiet on the Western Front] about the experiences and disillusionment of a young German soldier on the front during WWI. It is seen even today as one of the strongest anti-war statements. The novel became an overnight sensation in the late 1920s when it was first published. It sold millions of copies in several languages within the first year or so, ensuring Remarque's financial well-being. It also became a symbol in Germany of antithesis to Aryan strength, courage, and domination. May 10, 1933, it was among the books sacrificed to the pyre by gleeful, demonic partisans of Nazism.

I've been reading Hilton Tims' biography of Remarque. Since I gave up taking work to bed, I've preferred biographies, those brief encapsulations of a lifetime, snapshots of an individual's dalliance and passing on the earth. Remarque achieved great success early. He continued to write, lived in exile in Switzerland, then the U.S. during and after WWII. One of his sisters was executed in Germany for "defeatist thinking". He was lovers with Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and others among the glamorous Hollywood set. A tumultuous life.

What strikes me most is a comment (cited by Tims) in Remarque's diary late in his life, after having suffered the first of several strokes. He wrote that his life was a failure; so many opportunities, only a few taken; I have lived without living! Remarkable really. And sad. Very sad. Who knows: perhaps these were the words, the thoughts, of someone in passing, depressed by the debilitation of age, not the lasting impressions of the man. But... regret, deep, abiding regret.

I don't wish to reach my decline with such regret and sadness.

1 comment:

Terminaldegree said...

If you can find a copy, look for his play, "Full Circle." I haven't run across it since high school, so it may not be as well-written as I remember, but it's still worth a read, if only to remind ourselves of the danger of living a life of "what if...?"

I believe the title in German was something like "The Last Station," but I could be mistaken.

Thanks for reminding me about Remarque. I haven't read All Quiet in ages.