SHADOWS IN PARADISE by erich maria remarque

a very good book stumbled upon randomly while browsing the german language section in the library (will that be possible with ebooks? real browsing that is, not crowd-sourced gutless “pushed” content. but i digress…) SHADOWS IN PARADISE is the final (posthumously published) novel by the author of the anti-war blockbuster ALL IS QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT… a tumultuous bio, remarque survived two world wars, his lovers included marlene dietrich, greta garbo and paulette goddard, he was an avid and knowledgeable art collector, a NYC night owl, and reputed author of very fine cocktail recipes.

remarque’s NYC is thus a strange, glamorous combination of night-clubbing and WWII refugee purgatory. the two worlds collide through our man Ross–the book’s narrator–who has survived the concentration camps, fits in (though he’s a goy) with the jewish refugees, comes to court a fashion model, and ends up as an assistant for an art dealer to the super-rich.

some of the most delicious bits in fact deal with this art dealer character whose pretentious slimeball antics seem utterly unevolved in their parasitic kin of today:

I looked at this fashion plate of a man. His suits and shoes were from London, his shirts from Paris. His nails were nicely manicured and he smelled of French cologne. I saw him and listened to him as though he were sitting behind a glass pane; he seemed to live in a muffled world–a world of bandits and cutthroats. I was sure, but fashionable, well-groomed bandits and cutthroats… it suddenly struck me, all he really understood about his art works was their prices, because if he really loved them he wouldn’t sell them. And by selling them he was enabled to live a life of luxury unknown to the painters who had made it possible… And yet by buying their works for a song, dealers had often saved poor artists from going hungry. Everything about this business was so ambiguous, so misty and unclear (65).

i love reading about old new york, all that’s changed and all that hasn’t. this one is written in a great natural storytelling style — good on art and war and death and relationships. remarque seemed thought of as a hemmingway derivative — and some of the subject matter might be, along with its macho costume, but remarque’s style is more natural — and, for my dollar, more funny. nonetheless a tragic book equally artificial and true. an odd glamor — the kind that can’t take itself seriously due to the war but one also that resents that fact. true to the horror of it with almost no mention of the war’s details. neither art not biography but a kind of romantic epic built somehow from sober reportage.

Find it at your local library.

marlene dietrich & erich maria remarque

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