Friday, 17 May 2019

Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada


Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada
First published in German as Jeder stirbt für sich allein in West Germany in 1947. English language translation by Michael Hofmann published by Melville House Publishing in 2009.

One of my 2019 Mount TBR Challenge reads and a Classics Club Challenge read.

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Inspired by a true story, Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin is the gripping tale of an ordinary man's determination to defy the tyranny of Nazi rule.

Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels' necks.

Alone In Berlin appealed to me when I spotted a book exchange copy because of its having been written by a German author almost immediately after the Second World War (in 1946) and its subject being a true story of resistance within Germany to the Nazi regime. I have read a lot of stories about the French Resistance, but German civilian resistance is far less frequently portrayed. As it turned out, I think 'inspired by a true story' would have been a more truthful tagline than 'based on' because Fallada invents a lot around the central narrative idea, bending the truth to achieve a more interesting novel.

What feels absolutely genuine though is his portrayal of wartime Berlin. The stifling atmosphere of suspicion and intolerance leeches through every page. I could envisage every neighbour constantly spying though peepholes, every work colleague on the lookout for a chance to gain favour by denouncing a former friend. The characters in Alone In Berlin do feel absolutely genuine and it is their interactions which kept my attention, and my sympathies, throughout. We meet gamblers and black marketeers, people trying to do their best under the circumstances and people making the most of every opportunity. No one is all good or all bad and I could easily understand their individual motivations.

As with Good People by Nir Baram, partly set in the same wartime Berlin but written decades later, I felt the author encouraging readers to put themselves into the characters shoes. Alone In Berlin asks us to think about the roles we might take in similar circumstances. In the novel, Otto and Anna Quangel had initially voted for Hitler because they felt he and his policies would improve their lives. It is not until a couple of years later that they realise the full truth of what their votes enabled. This is such a relevant novel for 2019, especially with the political similarities many of us are witnessing right now. It is an engrossing historical story with a powerful cautionary message for today.


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Hans Fallada / War fiction / Books from Germany

10 comments:

  1. Looks great. Perfect for my hubby.

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    1. I was surprised Alone In Berlin isn't better known as a novel, though I think it has inspired several film versions

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  2. You were not kidding when you told me that you read true stories or memoirs! It seems to be a very interesting read indeed! I have always been fascinated by true stories from WWII as my great grand-mother told me so many stories about it. She had lived two wars!

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    1. I've somehow managed to get myself a lot of memoirs and true-ish stories this month!

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  3. an interesting book

    Have a great week end!

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  4. I read this a couple of years ago and enjoyed the resistance theme too. As you say there are plenty of French resistance books but few set elsewhere. I was just sat here thinking of other countries in the war years that must have had resistance of some such, it would be interesting to seek out books set in those places.

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    1. I know a little of the Dutch resistance efforts, but there must have been Scandinavian and Eastern European groups too. I wonder if anyone's written about them?

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  5. I have read a few books like this but not read this one. I think I will add it to my list. I will know ahead of time there is a lot of creative license used in the story, but the genuine portrayal of Germany already is enough for me to want to try it.

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    1. It does feel genuine in its portrayal of Berlin at that time and the shady characters surrounding Otto and Anna are wonderful creations

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