Countries: Second World War Era Germany
One of the first anti-Nazi books to be published in Germany, it`s hard to believe that this book wasn't translated to English until 2009.
When you think of a tortured artistic soul, it`s hard to think of a more apt illustration than German writer Hans Fallada. His short life was a struggle. Marked by grief, addiction, suicide attempts, illness, isolation, crime, pain, and being committed to a Nazi insane asylum, he still managed to produce several masterpieces, including my favourite Every Man Dies Alone, which was written in 24 days and published just one week before Fallada`s death.
Inspired by the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel, the novel follows the life of Otto and Anna, a simple, unassuming, hardworking couple who live in a Berlin apartment building filled with interesting characters. The death of their only son in WWII war sets about a spiraling chain of events as Otto and Anna launch an unlikely clandestine campaign, a kind of civil disobedience, to undermine the Nazi authorities.
As characters, they are both simple and mysterious; dignified and pathetic, courageous yet dependent. You can't help but to love them, but they can also inspire frustration, for as the story progresses you feel more, and worry more for their situation.
Otto and Anna aren't the only characters you'll encounter. There's the Jewish woman living alone on the top floor of their building, who they respect because she keeps her own council.
The family on the first floor is more insufferable than usual when their son becomes an SS officer, and we get a sense that Anna and Otto have not so much a problem with the SS son but instead with the priggish father who has always been a bit of a jerk.
There's also the Gestapo office assigned to track down who the culprits behind Anna and Otto's campaign; and the hapless "usual suspect" who is mistakenly accused - the interaction between the two is both comic and tragic.
Does this book make me want to travel to Berlin? Absolutely!
It's not the first class writing that appeals to me so much as the loving, colorful, complex portrayal of Berlin in the midst of war.
Fallada makes the point that Berlin was a city of diverse citizens, that there was more to the population than Nazis and resistance fighters. It's an inspiration when you can so clearly see how the author loves, absolutely loves, his city and the intimate detail of every day life - an upscale pet store, the corridor of an office building, the details of a public park.
You can really appreciate what a beautiful city Berlin was, how much was lost during the destruction of the war, and how many innocent lives were trampled by the Nazis. One of the first anti-Nazi books to be published in Germany, it's hard to believe that this book wasn't translated to English until 2009. It is a riveting novel and I think it would give a rich background of history to anyone travelling to Germany.
Check out your local bookstore, or buy through my Amazon Store.
You can also buy the Original German Version - Jeder stirbt für sich allein via Amazon, though it might be cheaper elsewhere.