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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2001
In the yard of the gravestone firm Heinrich Kroll and Sons stood the huge black granite obelisk that nobody wanted to buy. The father of the present proprieters, Georg and Heinrich Kroll had bought it in the year of 1863 as Bismarck began to revolutionise German Politics. It stands in the novel as a symbol for the Weimar years and the rise of National Socialism in Germany.
In the office sits the young clerk-cum-salesman, Ludwig Bodmer (i. e. Remarque) pondering his future. The year is 1923 and the Reichmark rose during the year from 18,000 to the dollar to 4,200 billion and money lost its meaning. Suicide became endemic as people, already battered by one world war, struggled to come to terms with bankruptcy and the collapsing economy.
To make ends meet, Ludwig Bodmer plays the organ on Sundays in the chapel of the local insane asylum. There he falls in love with a beautiful young mental patient, Isabelle, whose 'reality' is no more insane than the fraught times they are passing through. He also gives music lessons to the son of the local bookseller and plays the piano in pubs occasionally.
This is the most biographical of all Remarque's novels and is a lapidary account of the Weimar years in the thinly-disguised town of Osnabrueck (Werdenbrueck in the novel) where Remarque grew up. Remarque employs acute historical insight combined with great wit and a sometimes savage irony to reveal the joy, the sadness, the hypocrisy and the insanity of the times. Humour abounds, but the background is dark and foreboding.
One can read about the machinations of the Werdenbrueck Poet's Club; the agitation of major Wolkenstein, symbolic of the rising National Socialists; Sergeant-Major Knopf who could tell where a corn-brandy came from merely by tasting it; the affair of Georg Kroll with Lisa the wife of the horse-butcher, Watzek. There is Renee de la Tour, the hermaphrodite night-club entertainer who could sing bass and soprano and bellow commands like an army drill instructor. Bodmer's arguments with Vicar Bodendieck, the chaplain of the insane asylum and Dr. Guido Wernicke chart his philosophical development. The brother Heinrich Kroll and Major Wolkenstein represent the older, more conservative Germans who looked to a more hard-line chauvinistic nationalism for the future. Ludwig Bodmer and Georg Kroll represent the more reasonable, humanistic side of Germany.
Remarque himself had been a gravestone salesman for the firm of Vogt in Osnabrueck's Suesterstrasse. He was also an accomplished pianist and organist and had actually played the organ in the chapel of the local insane asylum. He had been, like his alter ego Ludwig Bodmer, a member of the Osnabrueck Poet's Club. Also like Bodmer he had left the small town for the wider world of Berlin as the inflation ended.
This is undoubtedly Remarque's best book. It is charming, sad, funny, rich in characters and highly readable. It is Remarque, mellowed by the years, looking back with great wit, objectivity and irony at his younger days. Almost by way of an epilogue, he provides a chapter telling what happened to those he knew: how some were worn down and persecuted by the following Nazi regime, and how some had collaborated and feathered their own nest.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 1999
This is, in my opinion, the best book written in the 20th century. Remarque is at his peak as far as style and content, his humor, and his unique and first class desription of characters and seemingly "ordinary" incidents of life. True: this book is not about great historical figures, nor does it contain great adventures, mysteries or surprises -- common lures for today's readers. But it does contain a drama nevertheless, the drama of every simple life story. This book describes ordinary life -- that life that Odysseus had in his mind on his journey home. I am only 22, but will love this book just the same when I am a 70 year old man looking back at my life. This book is about life, and if I am tired of this book, I am tired of my life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 1998
The economic and political climate in Germany between the world wars and the pathos of an unusual love story make for a great setting. However, often overlooked is the wonderful humor created by the secondary characters in the story. Some of the situations will brings tears to your eyes from laughing. A truly wonderful mix of history, love, and humor,
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 March 2012
I had read this novel in German some years ago whilst in a German hospital during a disastrous holiday. I was not sure that I had understood all of it so, when I found it in English I bought it more out of curiosity than anything else. But what a novel! Better by far (in the style of writing if not the subject matter) than "All Quiet on the Western Front". There is humour, pathos and an accurate description of some of the evils of the early Brownshirts of the Nazi Party. There are so many levels to enjoy and the characters stand out vividly representing, in most cases, aspects of people that everyone will have met in life. It is a novel of the between-war years and the absurd inflation that Germany went through that made a Dollar worth billions of Marks. Above that, it is a novel about how a nation that had gone through a disastrous war started to turn its eyes backwards and to pine for "the good old days" even when they patently weren't. They turned, of course, to Hitler and the same militarism that had brought about their downfall in 1918. Though set in the 1920s, and written in the 1950s, it has much to warn us of, still. Humorous yet intellectual, silly yet true, easy to read but thought provoking. A real classic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 1998
Remarque certainly knows how to turn cynism into poetry. This book is about an entire people, divided in two after WWI, struggling the every day of survival, trying to go on without letting the situation take to your head. Ludwig's favourite moments in life comes to him when reading the words written to the dead, in the newspaper every day, by the relatives. I read the book in Swedish.
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on 13 February 2013
It is unbelievable that this novel is often out of print and is only available in this expensive version at the moment. It is perhaps the author's best work and has both a pithy humour and lightness of touch that make it so rich in tone.It is episodic in plot and flows along and whether you enjoy it will depend on how much you enjoy a book that does not have a conventional pay-off, or epic finish; it is more elusive and gentle.

George Kroll, the protagonist, is made appealing to the reader due to the stoic, wily way that he snakes his way through life in late 1930's Germany and the hyperinflation that reduces everyone to desperation. His world of the workplace, an undertaker's, the local people, including a woman whom everyone watches brazenly perform a strange act through the curtains at night, and a woman he loves, Isabel, are compelling.

Bittersweet, offbeat and intelligent, this story should be made into a film, but the rights (as I hear it) are too expensive right now.

If you love historical context to be vivid, enjoy
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on 6 September 2014
Everyone literate have at least heard of "No news on the Western Front" and probably read it. This is so much better. So many one liners about life, love, friendship and more. Gives great insight into the desperation of the hyperinflation and unrest and beginning of the Nazi movement and delves into love, mental illness and nationalism. If you liked No news on the Western Front, you'll like (love) this one. A great author and a great book for any man who's ever been in love but also troubled by what goes on in society. There's no grizzly war stuff in it, like No News, so it has more appeal to the ladies, I guess. I remember in high school how a lot of the girls were like: "Oh, another war book - great". This is a human drama in a historical contexts and it feels like you're there and hanging out with the characters.
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