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Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

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Posts: 107
Joined: June 2010

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Post by writerinthenorth » Mon April 11th, 2011, 2:14 pm

I knew nothing about Hans Fallada's work; downloaded 'Alone in Berlin' onto my Kindle simply because it came up on my Recommendations and the blurb looked interesting. It was a great decision, and I hope I can add my little bit to encouraging others to read this harrowing but absorbing and grittily realistic novel of wartime Germany.

The book was originally published in 1947, not long after the events it describes and shortly before the author's death, but very surprisingly was not translated into English until 2009. It is set in and around Berlin, with the most outwardly mundane central characters - a factory foreman and his timid hausfrau wife - but it is their very ordinariness that throws into relief the brutality that surrounds them, and their quiet but determined courage in a city dominated by fear and suspicion; that, and the fact that their story is based on the actions of a real-life couple Otto and Elise Hampel, who from no political background embarked on a three year campaign of writing anti-Nazi postcards which they secretly placed in stairwells of public buildings around the city to be found and read by whoever might be passing. Their actions (prompted by the battlefield death of a family member) probably had little impact beyond enraging the Gestapo officers who were charged with finding and arresting them, but that does not make their heroism less - it emerges strongly in the novel, as does their humanity, much like that of the Frank family in the better-known journal of life undercover in the shadow of Nazism.

Fallada's writing is rough-hewn and uneven, but I guess a more highly-polished treatment would have had less effect - sometimes you need to feel the splinters - and at times (especially in the prison cell scenes towards the end of the story) it is starkly magnificent. The book is not without a certain black humour, but its overall impact is chilling, its lessons salutary. Anyone who has ever wondered how ordinary German citizens could stand by in the midst of Hitler's atrocities will come to a better understanding by reading 'Alone in Berlin'. They might wonder, too, whether they would have the courage to resist, as few do here, or take abject refuge among the silent (or whispering) majority.

The reviewer David Williams write a regular blog as Writer in the North.

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Steve Anderson
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Joined: April 2011
Location: Portland, Oregon USA

Post by Steve Anderson » Mon April 25th, 2011, 12:52 am

Nice review, David. I'm currently reading the German original (Jeder stirbt für sich allein -- Everyone Dies Alone in translation here in the states) -- as my secondary read since my German's slower going than my English, and I find it a fascinating and gritty read so far. All of Berlin feels like a prison ghetto (or a concentration camp) as if after a murder and all are under suspicion. A work like this certainly gives more insight into everyday life and fears than a bundle of history textbooks.
http://www.stephenfanderson.com | Novelist, writer, literary translator

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