Hesitantly she said, ‘Isn’t this thing that you’re wanting to do, isn’t it a bit small, Otto?’
He stopped his rummaging, and still stood there stooped, he turned his head to his wife. ‘Whether it’s big or small, Anna,’ he said, ‘if they get wind of it, it’ll cost us our lives.’
An amazing book, different to what I was expecting. Set in Berlin in 1940 and described on the cover as a wartime thriller, I was imagining cloak and dagger and glamorous. I think it was the fact that it wasn’t like that at all, that it was a simply told story, about a group of very ordinary people, that made it all the more frightening.
An array of characters live in a shared apartment building, no 55 Jablonski Strasse. Here they try to get by under the oppressive regime which threatens to monitor and punish their every move. An old Jewish woman, Frau Rosenthal is in hiding from the Persickes, her neighbours who protected by “the party” consider it their obligation to get rid of her and why not steal her life possessions at the same time.. Retired Judge Fromm keeps a low profile but misses nothing and plays a small but crucial role towards the end of the story. There are small time opportunist criminals, their wives, mistresses and children. All play a role and are well developed.
At the heart of the story are Otto Quangel and his wife Anna. Otto is a supervisor in a furniture factory, he works hard, is respected at work. He keeps a low profile, watches his pennies and leads a conservative life. He likes to keep out of trouble. Upon the news, delivered by the local postwoman, that their only son has “fallen” fighting the French and an accusatory comment made by his grief stricken wife, something happens to Otto Quangel. He can’t carry on as before.
He begins to write anti Hitler statments on postcards and dropping them in various spots over the city. His wife assists. It provides some solace to their grief. The postcards come to the attention of the local Inspector who is under pressure from above to catch him. Otto knows their lives are at risk but they cannot stop. The inhabitants of 55 Jablonski Strasse get caught up in the case. The Inspector’s own life becomes at risk if he doesn’t make an arrest. The noose tightens but still the post cards are dropped.
As I got further into the book, I found myself wondering if life was really like that under the nazi regime, where every word and action could be misconstrued, where fortunes can change in a moment,where you can’t as much as glance at a beaten man in the street for fear of being locked up as a sympathiser. How incredibly difficult to maintain any sort of integrity. Could daily life for the average citizen really have been that compromised. I came away with the uncomfortable feeling that it probably was.
I was wanting to read a book about German resistance for the WWII reading challenge and have had this on my wish list for most of the year. It was worth the wait.
Also reviewed by A Common Reader