Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada

Alone in Berlin

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

Published: 1947 (English 2009)
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Pages: 568
Challenges: German reading, WWII, Lost in translation, 2009 Pub; Support your local library

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10 responses to “Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada

  1. I have Every Man Dies Alone by Fallada waiting on my bookshelf and I got to thinking that the storyline sounds the same as Alone in Berlin. I wonder if they are the same. Either way, I am glad to know that you liked the book:)

  2. Hi Book Psmith – yes they are the same book. I hope you enjoy it too when you get to reading it 0:)

  3. Its wonderful to read someone else’s review of a book I’ve enjoyed so much. I think this is the most unique view of pre-war Germany that I have read and is one of those books I will remember for a very long time

  4. PS – I’ve been wanting to read He Was My Chief for some time and am only put off by the high price. My library does not stock it unfortunately. I will await your review with interest.

  5. “Alone in Berlin” or here in the states “Every Man Dies Alone” is my favorite book of 2009. Too bad there aren’t any 2009 writers that can write so well.

  6. Tony – There’s something about it isn’t there. Really different from anything else I’ve read and it lingers on long after finishing it. I agree – would be great to have these sorts of books still being written.

  7. Pingback: German Reading Challenge – Completed! « A Book Sanctuary

  8. Pingback: Hans Fallada.com » Blog Archive » Going Alone Against Berlin?

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