Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada (1947, translated by Michael Hoffman, 2009)

"Every Man dies Alone is the greatest book on the Nazis ever written" - Primo Levi

I am estatic to once again be able to Participate in German Literature Month, elegantly and lovingly hosted by Lizzi's Literary Live and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. This is my fourth year as a participant.   On the host blogs you will find the particularities of the event but the basic idea is to read literature first written in German (translated or not) and share your thoughts.  I began accumulating works for the event soon after the event ended last year and I began reading for it in mid-September.  

One of the things that makes the reading life of such high worth is discovering new to you writers.  There have been times when knowing there are many writers of genius, wisdom, power and beauty, living and long dead, waiting for me to read for the first time is one of the things that kept me looking forward to the future.  As my first work for German Literature Month 2015, I am so happy to have read Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada (1893 to 1947-as a personal note which impacted me a lot, he died 25 days after I was born. Maybe I am honored to have briefly shared the earth with him).

Every Man Dies Alone was written in two months in 1946.  Fallada told his wife when he finished that he had  he had written a work of genius and he was right.  The story centers on a very ordinary German couple, the Quangels, the husband is a foreman at a furniture factory.  He has never read. a book, never late in thirty years for work and rigidly enforces the factory discipline.  His wife,
Anna is the  paradigmatic   German house Frau, with no opinions of her own.  They have one son, their only child, drafted into the German army and fighting on the Eastern Front.  One day they get a form notice saying their son died as a hero serving the Furher and the Fatherland.  The couple's world is shattered.  Shocking the husband to the depth of his being, the wife screams at him, "I hope you are happy now that our son has died for your Furher".  The man can barely respond, uttering probably the first political statement he has ever made, "He is not my Furher".  Two weeks later the husbands writers the first of over two hundred anti-Nazi post cards. He tells his wife he is going to leave the post card in a public building.  His wife is at first horrified by this, knowing if they are caught they will be executed.

"And what was he proposing? Nothing at all, something so ridiculously small, something absolutely in his character, something discreet, out of the way, something that wouldn’t interfere with his peace and quiet. Postcards with slogans against the Führer and the Party, against the war, for the information of his fellow men, that was all.......Then he picked up the pen, and said softly but clearly, “The first sentence of our first card will read: ‘Mother! The Führer has murdered my son.”

Soon every Sunday, sometimes midweek also, he is dropping the cards all over Berlin.  Most who find them at once take them to the police for fear they might have been observed picking it up and be thought to be the author of the card.  Soon a minor Gestapo detective is given the assignment of finding who is leaving the cards.  He goes about the search very systematically, mapping all the spots where the cards are left and coming up with totally wrong conclusions about the kind of person the card writer must be.  We meet lots of great minor characters, including just brilliantly done Gestapo higher ups, of whom the detective is terrified.  Everybody is  scared of the allied bombs, the Gestapo, being turned in by others for food rewards, and of being cold and hungry.      

We see the steps the couple takes to avoid detection and we hold our breath on some close calls.  No one suspects Herr Quangel as  he is so plodding, so
 dull, and rule bound even when evidence against him begins to mount up.

I don't want to tell the profoundly moving close of the story.  I read somewhere that Every Man Dies Alone is about the banality of goodness, how goodness can just be ordinary.  

The novel brilliantly depicts life for ordinary Germans in World War Two.  We see how more and more people have to pretend they support what they know is an absurd lost cause. No one can trust anyone hardly with his true feelings on the war. We see how painful it is to drink acorn coffee, to have no pork.  One card said "Adolph, give us back our pork".  

There are scenes of horrible cruelty.  I almost felt sorry for the Gestapo detective when he was beaten and imprisoned when his superior threw a fit over the card writers not being found.  

The ending is crushingly sad, very moving.  There are decent people in this world, a retired Judge in the Quangel's building shelters a Jewish woman.  While in prison Quengel has two cell mates, one was a conductor of the Betlin Philharmonic, deeply cultured.  He gets food from outside and shares it.  He has a few books and he offers to let Quangel read them but he basically said he has never read a book all his life and he sees no point in starting now.  The other was reduced to an animal.

From the web page of Melville House

This rediscovered masterpiece, lost after World War II, was translated for the first time into English in 2009 by Melville House and became one of the most acclaimed books of the year.
It presents a rich detailed portrait of life in Berlin under the Nazis and tells a sweeping saga of one working-class couple who decides to take a stand against the Nazis when their only son is killed at the front. With nothing but their grief and each other against the awesome power of the Reich, they launch a simple, clandestine resistance campaign that soon has enraged Gestapo on their trail, and a world of terrified neighbors and cynical snitches ready to turn them in.
In the end, it’s more than an edge-of-your-seat thriller, more than a moving romance, even more than literature of the highest order-it’s a deeply moving story of two people who stand up for what’s right, and for each other.

I have a copy of his Wolf Among Wolves and will post on it soon.  It is described as The Vanity Fair or War and Peace of the Weimer Republic.  At over 800 pages I cannot wait to read it.  

Please share your experience with Fallada or other WW Two era German writers with us. 

Bio Data from Melville House
Before WWII, German writer Hans Fallada's novels were international bestsellers, on a par with those of his countrymen Thoman Mann and Herman Hesse. In America, Hollywood even turned his first big novel, Little Man, What Now? into a major motion picture

Learning the movie was made by a Jewish producer, however, the Nazis blocked Fallada's work from foreign rights sales, and began to pay him closer attention. When he refused to join the Nazi party he was arrested by the Gestapo--who eventually released him, but thereafter regularly summoned him for "discussions" of his work.

However, unlike Mann, Hesse, and others, Fallada refused to flee to safety, even when his British publisher, George Putnam, sent a private boat to rescue him. The pressure took its toll on Fallada, and he resorted increasingly to drugs and alcohol for relief. Not long after Goebbels ordered him to write an anti-Semitic novel he snapped and found himself imprisoned in an asylum for the "criminally insane"--considered a death sentence under Nazi rule. To forestall the inevitable, he pretended to write the assignment for Goebbels, while actually composing three encrypted books--including his tour de force novel The Drinker--in such dense code that they were not deciphered until long after his death.

Fallada outlasted the Reich and was freed at war's end. But he was a shattered man. To help him recover by putting him to work, Fallada's publisher gave him the Gestapo file of a simple, working-class couple who had resisted the Nazis. Inspired, Fallada completed Every Man Dies Alone in just twenty-four days.

He died in February 1947, just weeks before the book's publication.

I am currently reading his Wolf Among Wolves
Mel ü


patpalbooks said...

Hi Mel, I'm pleased you posted on Fallada, I've been sat on a copy of Wolf Amongst Wolves Since it was published, and this should have given me the impetus to read it

Mytwostotinki said...

Great review of this masterpiece by Fallada. I love also his The Drinker and I am glad that finally his books get the recognition they deserve.

Lisbeth said...

Great review of a great book. I read it recently but under the name 'Alone in Berlin'. It is the same book though. A story worth thinking of and explaining the times very well.