“Three Comrades” by E. M. Remarque

three comradesThree Comrades, written by German writer Erich Maria Remarque, is one of the most famous novels in history. The plot develops around three wartime friends, and a girl they meet by accident, who try to make ends meet in a difficult post-war period.

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 Patricia.

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.

In a couple of days, Robert manages to sell a used Cadillac to a cunning trader, Blumenthal, and gets a lot of money from the sale. With his portion of the revenue, he plans a vacation for himself and Pat to go to the seaside. At the sea, they spend a wonderful time in a guest-house where Kester lived several years ago. They swim, rest, and ride around in Karl. Unfortunately, during one of these trips, Pat has a hemorrhage. In panic, Robert calls Otto and asks him to find a doctor, since there are no doctors in the neighborhood. Kester arrives in record time, spending only a couple of hours on a trip that would have normally taken half a day. He brings a doctor who has treated Pat in the past. His name is professor Jaffe. He tells the friends that she has inveterate tuberculosis. When she feels better, they all return home.

Due to different financial problems, Kester has to sell his automobile repair station, so he puts it up for auction. As winter approaches, it gets colder and Jaffe calls Robert and tells him that because of the weather, Pat needs to be taken to the sanatorium. He also says that he has already made an agreement with his friend at the sanatorium about Pat’s treatment. Consequently, Robert sends her to a mountain resort.

Meanwhile, many demonstrations and riots take place in the city, political meetings and speeches of fascist thugs become commonplace. At one of these meetings, gunfire erupts and Lenz, who has passed through the entire war and was the most optimistic and merry of the three comrades, gets killed. Kester and Alfonse go through the city with a fine tooth comb, searching for the murderer to avenge Lenz’s death. Finally, Alfonse tracks the killer down and kills him.

Robert receives a telegram from Pat. She asks him to come to the sanatorium as soon as possible. Robert has no money to buy a train ticket, so Kester takes him there by car. When they arrive, the doctor who treats Pat, tries to comfort them, telling stories about miraculous recoveries. Pat begins to feel a bit better, so that she is allowed to go outdoors. All three of the friends go for a walk on a mountain ridge and watch the sunset. Then Kester has to leave, so Pat asks him to say hello to Lenz for her, but the men do not dare to tell her about his tragic death.

Robert receives money from Kester to buy medicine needed for Pat’s treatment. He understands that Otto had to sell “Karl” to receive the money for the medicine. Pat weakens from day to day and she already cannot get up from her bed. Robert understands that no miracle is going to happen. He sits near her bed, holding her hand, and as the night ends, Pat dies.

Reference

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

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