Novels of the Great War: "Drei Kameraden" by Erich Maria Remarque

While examining the First World War literature there are some titles and authors that always emerge, no matter which country you’re from. Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues is what we mean by this simple introduction. But one should never forget that the result of the conflict had great echoes on literature also long after the end of the war and relevant impact in the so called Entre-deux-guerres period. And the name of Erich Maria Remarque was not mentioned by chance since today reading suggestion is his novel Drei Kameraden first published in 1936 and written during the exile in Switzerland. This is not a book about the Great War but it’s a novel about what came after it and it’s generated from a kind of ghost image, from a perennial trauma shaping the minds of those who spent the youth buried in the European trenches. This is the reason why we consider for all purposes “Three Comrades” still a World War One novel. On the contrary, we do not consider for instance the recent 14 by Jean Echenoz a World War One novel. The novel by Echenoz represents simply the use of a war subject in today literature and we are able to collect similar examples in comics, arts, films while in Remarque’s case we’re still, with both feet, in the climate originating from the conflict.

We all know about the dreadful economic situation that Germany had to face after the Treaty of Versailles. And the story that Remarque outlines in this book is about three comrades that try to survive among the shocking unemployment, the plague of alcoholism and the rising of new extremisms by opening a garage for car repair in a German city. Robert, the protagonist, falls in love with Patrice, a beautiful and mysterious woman that eventually will fall ill with tuberculosis. This sentiment becomes a kind of handhold in order not to plummet like all the world around him and his two friends, an entire world that is rapidly collapsing into another dark tunnel. Patrice will try uselessly some cures in Switzerland and the three friends will sell their garage and will go to Switzerland in a last desperate attempt to help her to survive. This popular novel still works as a kind of warning for us. What we understand is that a second parallel tragedy flows beside the one occurred in the European trenches between 1914 and 1918: it is the tragedy of the survivors and of their lives fed by internal and continuous flash-backs of death, getting bigger and bigger inside. We can read Drei Kameraden as a cruel persistent image of death (the one of Patrice) after the mass death (in the battlefields), in the scenario of the rising Nazism.