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4.9 out of 5 stars23
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on October 24, 1999
Except for All Quiet On The Western Front and Spark Of Life, there is a strange sameness to all of Remarque's novels. It's as if he spent his life attempting to perfect a specific theme populated with a specific set of characters. Invariably, the main character is a life-torn man, outwardly bitter and cynical, yet emotionaly informed by a romantic core which allows him to navigate life with great sensitivity. Typically these men find themselves in relationships -- usually sweet, sometimes tempestuous -- with a woman who is doomed to die in either body or spirit.
Three Comrades is the first such book Remarque wrote, and sets the thematic stage for almost everything which followed. To those who have read any of his refugee novels, you will recognize the root characters of all his later work: they who survive life by day, philosophize over drinks at night, and eventually watch each other die for the sin of living in the 20th century. Anyone who knows and loves Remarque's novels will find old friends here, and be delighted with the reunion.
To those unfamiliar with the main body of Remarque's work, you would probably do better reading The Black Obelisk, Night in Lisbon, or Arch of Triumph for an introduction to Germany's Lost Generation. The type of characters he habitually portrays are less compelling here. Possibly it's because the characters are new to him in this novel. Possibly it's because there's less opportunity for them to shine: The 1928 Weimer Republic depicted here is a relatively comfortable period compared to the extremes of rabid inflation or spreading Nazism in his other books. Remarque is only at his best in a completely shattered world -- a vaguely restless one just doesn't suffice for his stories.
If Remarque had any great message, it was "people are to be loved, but humanity is always suspect." Although that point is not shrouded here, it is distracted beneath the fluff of an charmingly iffy love story during a time when, despite shootings in the streets, it could still be an issue of concern whether or not a man's necktie looked too ratty to wear on a date.
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