Last reviewed: June 2017
German-born Swiss novelist
June 22, 1898
September 25, 1970
Erich Maria Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front, an outstanding novel of modern war, was from a Roman Catholic family of French descent. His father was a bookbinder; the family name was Remark. Educated in Osnabrück, where he was born Erich Paul Remark on June 22, 1898, he was drafted into the German Army during World War I when he was eighteen. He was wounded by British shell fragments. After his discharge he received a government-sponsored education for teaching, but a year’s experience convinced him that he was not suited to the academic life. He tried his hand at various occupations: drama critic, salesman for a tombstone company, publicity manager for a rubber company, part-time organist in a hospital for the mentally ill, and assistant editor of Sport im Bild, an illustrated sports magazine in Berlin. Some of his bizarre experiences were later incorporated in his satirical novel The Black Obelisk. In 1925 he married Jutta Ilse (Jeanne) Zambona; they were divorced in 1930.
In his spare time and between jobs, he worked on a war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, which was an immediate success when it was published in 1929, selling more than a million and a half copies internationally during the first year. There have been several successful film versions of the book, and the simplicity and directness of the style have enabled the novel to stand beyond its own time as a memorable portrait of soldiers at war. Erich Maria Remarque
Erich Maria Remarque
In 1931, Remarque bought a villa at Porto Ronco on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland. His novel The Road Back represented an attempt to convey a sense of the overwhelming challenge facing soldiers returning to a defeated country. Three Comrades continued his narrative exposition of the effects of war on Germany, the subject matter that most concerned Remarque. His continued protests against uncivilized force made him one of the targets of Nazi vilification, and early in their rise to power, the Nazis included his books among those that were publicly burned.
Remarque married Jeanne Zambona in 1938 so that she could safely remain in Switzerland rather than be forced to return to Nazi Germany. He moved to Los Angeles in 1939, where she later joined him, but they continued to live apart, finally divorcing in 1951. After three years in Los Angeles, Remarque relocated in New York. In 1947 he became a naturalized citizen, and after 1948 he divided his time between Switzerland, New York, and Rome. He married American movie star Paulette Goddard in 1958.
Although All Quiet on the Western Front is Remarque’s best-known work, Arch of Triumph and The Night in Lisbon were also worldwide best-sellers. The Black Obelisk—although new in method, as it can be characterized as a tragic farce—seemed particularly suited to Remarque, for it allowed him to be humane while desperate, satirical while moral, compassionate while censorious, and sane while commenting on lunacy. The novel aroused considerable attention and intensified an interest in Remarque’s play Die letzte Station (the last station), which had an enthusiastic reception in Berlin and Vienna. In 1967, the West German government awarded Remarque the Distinguished Service Cross of the Order of Merit. He died in 1970 at the age of seventy-two.