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Book Review: Three Comrades by Erich Maria Remarque

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The year is 1928. On the outskirts of a large German city, three young men are earning a thin and precarious living. Fully armed young storm troopers swagger in the streets. Restlessness, poverty, and violence are everywhere. For these three, friendship is the only refuge from the chaos around them

Then the youngest of them falls in love, and brings into the group a young woman who will become a comrade as well, as they are all tested in ways they can never have imagined. . . .

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Perhaps it is instinctual to try and dehumanize the enemy as much as possible, but on every side of the barricade there are regular people struggling to survive, and that’s something Erich Maria Remarque won’t let us forget in his novel, Three Comrades. Coming from the author of All Quiet on the Western Front, this book tells the story of three friends who are tremendously struggling to make ends meet in 1928 Germany

Poverty is rampant, and only the strong and lucky manage to keep their heads above water. Soon, things become quite heated with the sudden rise in popularity of the Nazi Party, and of course, Adolf Hitler. However, the novel focuses on the trials and tribulations faced by the three friends as things around them are rapidly changing, becoming more violent and decadent. It is the story of three friends who have nothing but each other for support to cross this turbulent period of their lives. As was mentioned above, the book is far from being about politics, rather delving deep into the human mind and spirit. It explores the concept of finding strength and motivation in love and friendship, and how human emotions can push us beyond boundaries we never though surmountable. It shows us that on the other side of the front, there were people just like us, struggling until their last breath to preserve their dignity and humanity. Remarque demonstrates that within every single human out there is something akin to a soul, to a personality, something that can never be taken away regardless of one’s profession or decisions.All things considered, though Three Comrades contains plenty of heavy and gut-wrenching passages, in the end it is a very heartwarming story about people who are trying to find love, majesty and grace in an ugly, brutal and unforgiving world.

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The novel begins with a description of the birthday of Robert Locamp, on whose behalf the story is told. Together with his friends, Otto Kester and Gottfried Lenz, he works in his automobile repair station. Looking at himself in the mirror, Robert recalls his recent past during the war: barracks, battles, Kester’s wound, gas attacks; then, after the war, his memories include the Putsch, the arrest of Robert’s friends, poverty, and unemployment. At the end, Kester opened an automobile repair station, giving him and his friends a possibility to survive in the dark times of Germany after World War I. Kester and Lenz decide to celebrate Robert’s birthday in a restaurant and they go there by car. Their car is absolutely unique. It is an old rattletrap with a modern, powerful racing engine. The three friends call the car “Karl” and sometimes they joke about drivers in luxury cars. They race them: at first they let their “victims” beat them, but then easily outrace them. On their way to a party, they race, and later in a restaurant, they encounter the owner of one of the cars that they have outraced. He is with a woman, Patricia. They get acquainted, and after a joint feast, Patricia leaves Robert her contact information. After some time, Robert refers to Pat, as the friends began to call her, as a girlfriend. At first, he feels embarrassed, but after a couple of shots of rum, he can talk to her without dithering. The next day, he sends her a bouquet of roses as an excuse for being drunk in front of her the previous night. Gradually, they begin to meet more often, and Pat takes a dominant place in Robert’s thoughts. One day, he takes “Karl” on a date and teaches Pat how to drive. Later, they go to a bar where they run into Lenz. All three then go to the amusement park and win lots of prizes. Kester and Lenz begin to accept Pat as one of their own and as a part of their small circle of friends

They also understand Robert’s feelings and do not intrude in his relationship with Pat. One day, Kester registered “Karl” to participate in races. Kester, who used to be a racer, wins and he, Lenz, Robert, and Pat go to celebrate this event at a bar which belongs to their comrade, Alfonse. Robert notices that Pat is tired, so he asks her if she is ready to leave and she says yes. After leaving, they spend time at the city cemetery, sitting in the fog and talking, and then they go to Robert’s place. Pat falls asleep in his arms and finally he fully realizes that she is in love with him. This makes him a bit confused because he is poor, and he got used to thinking that women cannot fall in love with men like him.

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After all, written with the same overwhelming simplicity and directness that made All Quiet on the Western Front a classic, Three Comrades portrays the greatness of the human spirit, manifested through characters who must find the inner resources to live in a world they did not make, but must endure.

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Remarque, Erich. Three Comrades. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1936. Print.

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