Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The German Classic!

I'm not sure how to begin writing about the German writer Hans Fallada, or about his classic novel Every Man Dies Alone, first published in Germany in 1947 and recently republished in the U.S. in 2009 by Melville House, an independent publisher and owner of the book blog Moby Lives.
I'm intense about post-war German literature (1945-) that focuses on the era of the Nazi Regime. And all my conscious life (age 12+) have wondered how people cope with such a devastating, annihilating past and the fact that their society slaughtered millions of people. Adjectives just don't paint the picture, no matter how many I string together.

I search for answers in German literature from every generation since 1945. What is fascinating about Every Man Dies Alone, is that it was written immediately after the war, in the final months of 1946, by a writer whose consciousness, whose entire life, was enmeshed in the struggle to live within a society molded by Nazi horror.

Fallada is not an apologist, not a writer ducking the hard questions about his fellow Germans. He creates a portrait of a people that lived solely by their fears and were convinced of their incapacity to look beyond them.

Not everyone, though. Not Otto and Anna Quangel, a couple in their early 50s. Like Fallada, or Rudolph Ditzen (Fallada's real name), they decide to commit small weekly acts of freedom and treason in the hopes that they will have a frisson of impact on others too afraid to look up from the pavement.

Fallada agonized over the writings he authored at the behest of the Nazi Party in the 1930s. To compensate, he drank wine until he was psychotic, and penned works that were anti-fascist at the core but not overtly recognizable as such. These were his small acts against the Nazis.

Fallada and his family had a chance to escape very, very late in the game, but, after a long walk, he decided he couldn't leave Germany. Perhaps he couldn't walk out on all the suffering he knew was to come, that he couldn't in good conscience allow himself to escape the severe penance to fall upon the German people.

Why should you read this book?

How many novels written by people who were consenting, mature
Germans during World War II do we have? That's why you should read it. Because there aren't any others! I'm nervous about that exclamation point. Maybe there's some obscure work somewhere, but is it in English? Published in the U.S.? I think not. I'm sure not.

1 comment:

  1. I heard about this book last spring (I work in a library, so we hear about all the new books from the publishers once a year), it was compared to The Kindly Ones, but although I've heard lots about that, I'd heard nothing of this one and had almost forgotten about it. Good of you to champion it! I've been wanting to read a German book this year, as I don't think I ever have and some of my ancestors were from Prussia, so I'll add this one to the list.