Although one has to give Firda credit for devoting much energy and evident loving attention to his topic—and for recognizing the need for a serious appraisal of Remarque's achievement beyond All Quiet on the Western Front —there is little else that can be said to recommend the book he produced. Recognition of good intentions will gain the author only a limited amount of credit, and that gets quickly expended as masses of spelling errors, stylistic gaffs, grammatical mistakes, and syntactical impossibilities overwhelm the reader. This is, sad to say, the most poorly written scholarly work I have ever seen in print.
Much as one wants to believe that the author is a careful worker who just has a bit of trouble with his English, the evidence tends to crush such belief before it is fully born. Details about Remarque's life and work are annoyingly inaccurate. Firda mentions how Remarque's father was always looking for cheaper housing, to be obtained, we are told, "by living in a house in which the concrete had dried out." Actually, just the opposite was the case: the senior Remarque moved the family into homes in which the concrete had not dried out, as eventually becomes clear in a later chapter. The book by "Mynona" (the pen name of Salomo—or Salimo—Friedlander), Hat Erich Maria Remarque wirklich gelebt, is alleged in the text to have been published in 1920, a clear impossibility. The correct date is to be found only in the notes. Sometimes Firda cannot keep Remarque's life and fiction apart. He says that Remarque's birthplace is "thinly disguised in Obelisk as the provincial city of Osnabrück." Actually the city in the novel is called Werdenbrück (as Firda himself later reports), and Osnabrück was Remarque's actual home town. Even what would otherwise be minor errors become obtrusive by repetition: Nietzsche is referred to again and again as "Nietzche." Although the correct spelling does show up at least once, it does not do so often enough to convince us that Firda actually knows which is right. Such minor frustrations are so numerous as to grow by accretion into a major trial of the reader's patience. [End Page 293]
It is often impossible to determine just what Firda wishes to say with his prose, some of which seems to move in directions doubtless unintended by its author. Firda writes that Remarque "had no idea that he should be almost solely responsible for writing a novel with which his name would always be associated and remembered." We will never know who the mysterious collaborator might have been. He also states that "the German revolutionary movement was still waiting for a war novel that would settle forever the rhetorical question of war as a viale [sic] experience for the human race." Even correction of "viale" to some actual word (vile? viable?) would not clarify the sentence. He informs us that "few readers outside Germany had little idea that Remarque had rejected an outmoded concept of art and culture a world as artistically contrived as The Dream Room." He tells us further about "an event that did not proceed without its special act of problems," about measures "taken to curb German sensibilities," about "an ill-fated attempt to join forces with a forty-year Adolf Hitler," and about World War One, "the Great War which his [Remarque's] book was about to immortalize." It is no wonder that "Albert Knopf" wished to publish such a book.
He would probably not have wished to publish this one.