Food in books, ep.7: All quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. Food in times of war.
This novel, as well as its author, has a fascinating story. While some literary critics have praised All quiet on the Western Front as one of the most relevant and enticing war novels, others have denied its literary value and simply looked at it as a war reportage. Published in 1929, the novel had immediate, incredible success, selling over a million copies within a year after publication. Four years later, the German authorities banned the book, viewed as detrimental to the German nation. Piles of books were burned, the author being marked as a traitor.
Erich Maria Remarque was enrolled in the Great War in 1917, at the age of 18, as part of the Second Company. He was soon transferred to the Western Front. One month later he was wounded and sent back to a military hospital, in Germany, where he spent the rest of the war. After the Nazi regime banned the book, he fled to Switzerland, later becoming an American citizen. His remaining family faced horrid persecution back in Germany, one of his sisters being murdered by the authorities. As of 1948 he set for Switzerland again and spent the rest of his life there. What happened to Remarque during the war, but also what happened afterwards is nothing but a tragic, dreadful story. I will not attempt to present the storyline, as there is no way to capture it. I will, however, allow myself to advise the esteemed reader to pick up the novel, if there was no opportunity to do so yet.
While my interest in the connection between food and various cultural products is fairly wide, the Food in Books series is particularly close to my heart. Over the previous six episodes, I have explored a variety of literary works where food served as an instrument for constructing or at least supporting the story. Food has acquired different attributes and was portrayed in various capacities: as a means of control, as a marker for national identity or as comforter in troubled times. And yes, food is all these, and much more. Yet, I believe that in Remarque’s shattering novel food is simply food: a means of subsistence, sustainer of life and, ultimately, bringer of joy. Read More