Camaraderie in Weimar Republic

I had mentioned previously that I was reading a book called “Three Comrade” by Erich Maria Remarque and I finished it some time ago. After reading the book, I thought and thought for some time and decided it will be apt to write a note about it!

I am not going to start by praising or deriding it, but rather take a detour and talk about Erich Maria Remarque, before plunging into the work. (Have patience! Mr Remarque was a remarkable man of his time and its worth reading about such real life heroes as well.) We might have heard of Mr Remarque’s other more “popular’ book called “All quiet on the Western front”…..right it was also made into an Oscar winning film; but it was a book for a long while before it became a Hollywood magnum project. Anyhow, my trusted source (you got it: Wikipedia) informs me that Mr Remarque was born in Germany in 1898 and began writing from the age of 15. He was drafted into the German Army and served in the Western Front (Yup! You can finally make the “connection”….All Quiet on the Western Front was novel derived from his war experience!). Post the war, he dabbled in various occupations including teaching, journalist, librarian and a businessman. He published some minor works; fame finally came with his magnum opus “All Quiet on the Western Front” in 1927. He would then go on to publish various other works, The Road Back, Arch of Triumph, Flotsam etc. and of course Three Comrades. Before divulging into the book, I just want to share one small nugget about his life which makes him a hero – he wrote in dangerous times – Nazis were gaining power in Germany. Mr Remarque, a true humanitarian was horrified at what Germany was becoming and went on a self-imposed exile to Switzerland and became a naturalized US citizen in 1947. While in exile in Switzerland, he was in turns coaxed and coerced into returning to Germany. When all means failed, his sister and her family were arrested and executed for ‘undermining morale” of the State and his book were banned. He never went back to Germany. He died in 1970.

Cover of "Three Comrades"
Cover of Three Comrades

Now for the book – Three Comrades. The tag line of the book says “A novel of Germany between the two wars”. In the simple direct style, that Mr Remarque is famous for, his tag line encapsulates the very essence and meaning of the novel in these lines. The story is told in first person by one of the three comrades – Robert Lohkamp, a cynical protagonist who has been disillusioned by his experience in World War 1. The story begins in about 1923 and ends with that decade. It traces the camaraderie between Robert and his two friends – Otto Koster and Gottfried Lenz and their struggle in running a garage in an increasing jobless and bankrupt country. Their lives change when Robert falls in love with Patricia Hollman, a beautiful girl from an erstwhile wealthy family. She too becomes a comrade and joins the three in all their adventures from auto racing to drinking parties through the night. Interlacing with these four principal characters are other minor but true portraits of everyday men and women struggling to find their hold on their lives in time and place they had no choice for – Rosa, the prostitute who leaves her baby in the country while she walks the roads, The Hasses, Alfonso, Gustav the taxi driver with a soft heart and of course Karl, one cannot forget Karl. The book’s end (I will not disclose) becomes obvious well into the middle, but hang on and read it and you will be surprised by an unexpected turn of events.

Ultimately, the book is a vivid portrayal of nation and her people who are trying to come in terms with changes in their lives on which they have no control over. Written in a simple direct language, it has some lovely interplay of words that leave you wondering, like ‘Two photographs – one life.” Simple, beautiful and ethereal! What is perhaps the most wonderful feature of this book is that though there is melancholia all round, Mr Remarque manages to weave a sense of wonderful laugh out loud humour – check out the racing scenes or the events at “The International” or even the doctrines of the “Last of the romantics”. It’s a moving tale, where if you are like me, a lump will form in your throat and will find its way through your eyes!! Read it, like you would enjoy a glass of wine…in fact read it with a glass of wine!! It’s worth it!

P.S. Hollywood also decided to make a movie on this and starring Robert Taylor and Margret Sullivan, it was released in 1938 in the same name. Rumour has it that the 1978 Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter was inspired by this book. I have not seen either….I have no wish to disappoint myself with a let-down which most films based on books are (except The Godfather, but then it’s The Godfather), but if you feel adventurous, please watch them, but I would strongly recommend reading the book first!!

The absolutely magnificent and completely unforcasted holiday……

So I have not blogged for a while! I am so aware of this shortcoming and feel extremely guilty about it. A combination of reasons including work pressure, emotional turmoil and ill health have contributed in keeping me away from penning away my idiosyncratic thoughts. The same reasons also contributed towards making my weekend near perfect!

No I am not crazy and am not making contradictory statements. And Yes I have recovered from my illness so my brains are not damaged and I am not talking rubbish!!! One must cultivate patience…let me explain – the week had been extremely stressful (Yes! We all have stressful weeks; let me add that mine was more stressful than usual) and I just could not bring myself to be creative or intelligent or even tenuously funny. Every single cell of my brain rebelled from associating with anything remotely related to intelligence. After staring at the blank word document for 2 hrs I gave up – a smart creature always makes best use of his/her resources or in my case rather lack of resources. I am smart, if nothing else, so I gave up on trying to finish writing Book 1 of my novel and instead spent the whole weekend reading!!! So I gave myself a reading holiday!!Yipee!!!

There is nothing more joyous or more blissful about an unexpected holiday – you know when you were in school and it rained/snowed heavily and school got cancelled? It especially becomes great if you had horrid assignment or test that day. Or at work, you are dreading this Business Review with the VP and then you realise that it ain’t happening because, the VP hurt himself playing tennis???? My weekend was on the same line – I was expected to finish book 1, but I just could not make myself type a single word. I gave up and started reading – I read through 5 books and Boy! Am I glad I did?

A wise man once told me that when you are really really down, wear bright colours, cook up something great and read something really funny. So I wore red PJs (yes! I like red) and about the food see below and finally when it came to books, who can make me laugh more than Mr Terry Pratchet? I recommend Mr Pratchet whenever you are sad, ill, unhappy or happy, contended and having fun – he is a man for all seasons. I loved and I mean loved as in 40 Bold Font size, his Good Omens which he wrote in partnership with Neil Gaiman. It’s a brilliant take on Omen (The Movie) and the battle between good and evil without being didactic. After being restored to my natural sense of absurdity, joy and unbound optimism, I was ready to take on anything in the world, so I read George Orwell’s Burmese Days. It’s not a book to make you jump with joy; but it is brilliant take on the British colonial occupation and double standards that are imposed by the society that leads a man away from his destiny and ultimate happiness. It’s not a fun book, but worth a read for the richness of the language and the vivid portrayal of a country under imperial rule and subjected to a desperate fate, because of the infighting of her own people. I followed this up by re-reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. What can I say about this book that has not already been said before? His take on sensational journalism is laugh out loud funny with a good dose of rolling on the floor! William Boot and his travails in getting a scoop for the Daily Beast in the civil war torn Ishmalia will bring tears to your eyes (because you are laughing so hard; not crying! I do read such books but do not discuss them in public). I then changed the variety and read through John Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium. I love history and read it as closely as fiction and have a minor obsession about the Eastern Roman Empire, which had been condemned for poverty, obscenity etc. but produced some of the most magnificent works of art and in whose absence, the west would have completely lost its tracts of Roman and Greek works. Lord Norwich writes in a light, but scholarly way making the bygone era come alive with vivid characters and a hue of colours. Finally my 5th book, which I began reading and am still reading at the recommendation of my flat mate is Erich Maria Remarque’s The Three Comrades. I am still reading it so I will withhold my opinion, but just to give all of you a brief glimpse the story traces the lives and friendships of three friends in 1930’s Germany, where they have to live and make choices in a society that they never wanted to be a part off.

Since the books were so awesome, I ensured that the food I ate was also awesome. If I was going to be decadent I was going to be decadent all the way – Pizza’s with extra cheese, Pasta, Devilled Eggs and Fried Chicken. (Yup, it was an orgy of food and books)

The net result however is magnificent. I have got back my bounce back; my cherry optimism floweth unbound and I can laugh at myself and look at things at a 360* reverse angle again. Since the efficacy of this medication was so good for my bruised and battered soul, I wanted to share with all my blogosphere friends and proclaim it out loud – when your heart is not in it! Don’t do it….Just let it is and instead do something that you want to do and things will fall into place! It’s ok to take some time off once in a while and recharge yourself!  Take a reading/painting/cooking/walking/manicure holiday and you will see the difference when you come back to tackle your original bidding.