Thursday, May 28, 2009

Every Man Dies Alone - Hans Fallada



"Mother! The Fuhrer has murdered my son. Mother! The Fuhrer will murder your sons, too. He will not stop til he has brought sorrow to every home in the world. Pass this card on. So that many people read it! Don't give to the Winter Relief Fund! Work as slowly as you can! Put sand in the machines! Every stroke of work not done will shorten the war!"

This was the first postcard written by Otto and Anna Quangel, then left in a stairwell of a Berlin business. The first of hundreds. Having just lost their only son in the war, this working class couple decides they must do something to protect their decency and integrity. They must not blindly obey the criminals that are in charge. So they methodically create these postcards and leave them all over the city, in hopes of convincing others to join the fight. A termite revolution, if you will.

Does it work? At the end of the day, most of the postcards dropped were turned into the Gestapo with a hot-potato fear. It surely didn't have the affect the Quangels were hoping for. But in a perfect example of The Butterfly Effect, many devastating results occured. The deaths of at least seven souls, most innocent. Ruination of a successful career. The arrest, interrogation, torture and imprisonment of many. A runaway child. A mother's abandonment of a family. In an era of the predatory, guilt-by-association witch hunt, many do not survive the downfall of the Quangels.

The proud, ethical inspector Escherich keeps a wall-sized map in his office, littered with a red flag for every postcard found. Finding and arresting the "hobgoblin" planting these postcards becomes his mission in life. But when he finally does, he finds himself faced with some pretty humbling realizations. He has participated in the humiliation and the degradation of a decent man, and he questions who, indeed, is the real criminal. He is disgusted to provide "fresh prey" for the authorities. He understands that the only man truly converted by Quangel has sentenced him to death. He has sealed Quangel's fate.

This story, which by the way, is loosely based on a true story, starts out as an interesting tale of intersecting lives. Lives of those not convinced of Hitler's motives. Lives of lazy deadbeats who are always on the take. Lives of those just trying to survive. There are moments of humor - some of the personalities are priceless, and you chuckle. Then an innocent old woman, terrorized by a Hitler Youth punk, jumps out the window to her death. Zero to 60 in a few pages, then back again. The prose is rigid and unembellished, but about two-thirds the way through the book, uses its power to pull you into a dark, murky hole. The last hundred pages made my heart race, made me nautious and almost, I dare say, weepish. However, if you know me, you will know that this is a true sign of a masterpiece. I'm not moved easily in this way. It got to me.

The story of the author bears mentioning, and it is as dysfunctional as any fictional tale. Rudolph Ditzen struggled with his sexuality in his teens, and to protect the reputations of their families, staged a duel with his friend, intending to kill each other. Rudolph's bullet hit its mark; his friend's did not. Ditzen was committed to a sanatorium and was later released. He changed his name to Hans Fallada and moved to Berlin, where he began his literary career. He found some success, but most of his work came under scrutiny of the Third Reich, and his craft and spirit were beaten down by authorities. He became addicted to alcohol and various drugs, and was in and out of asylums. A fellow author and friend brought him the case file of Otto and Elise Hampel, a couple that was incarcerated for a three-year propaganda campaign against the Nazis. From their story, Fallada created the Quangels, and wrote this story in 24 days. He died of a morphine overdose before it was published. Fallada's personal demons and struggles are subtly woven into this story, and leaves you with a feeling of deep regret for his pain.

For those of you who are interested in the German resistance to the Nazis, I whole-heartedly recommend this book. Just plan on reading some Stephanie Plum or David Sedaris afterwards.

5 out of 5 stars

16 comments:

DeSeRt RoSe said...

Do you know I just discovered you were not on my blogroll?! I was shocked!! How could I misplaced your blog!! Oh well better late than never, so I just added you :) sorry about that!

You got something waiting on my blog :)

http://desertrosebooklogue.blogspot.com/2009/05/literary-blogger-award.html

farmlanebooks said...

Wow! Another 5 star review! Sounds a bit depressing, but I do love books that move you. I've added it to the ever growing wishlist!

mattviews said...

My goodness, this postcard revolution story sounds sooooo good and I have never heard of the author! I'm in for this one!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Desert Rose - You are so kind! I'm still not able to leave messages on your blog for some reason, but I am still reading all your posts!

Jackie - I hate classify anything as deperessing, maybe deep or thought-provoking instead! It did leave me in a fugue state for awhile I must admit.

Matt - I think this is what drew me to the book in the first place. Something a little different, you know? I got the recommendation from a bookstore blog (my sister is friends with the owner).

Diane said...

Sounds very deep, but a rewarding read. Great review.

Kim said...

At certain times in my life I can read this sort of book and at other times not - I'm in a 'not' phase right now but, since you gave it 5 stars, I will keep it on my Books To Look Out For list for future reference.

C. B. James said...

Wow. That's quite a story. I'll look for the book.

Have you ever checked out the Post Secret site? It encourages people to send in an anonymous postcard stating a secret they have. Some of them are very, very powerful.

Here's a link to it if you're interested. But I warn you, it can become addicting.

http://postsecret.blogspot.com/

Sandy Nawrot said...

Diane - the first part of the book wasn't too deep, but the further it went, it did! I like books that make me think long after I've finished them.

Kim - you are right about that. Like right now, I could not read another WWII book. I am in some desperate need of some fluff!

James - that website is COOL! That is like almost free therapy, and shows such a wide variety of humanity! I love it!

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Whoa....sounds like a very deep story. I love a dark novel that sucks you in so deep that you need a light read afterwards just to recover!

Dar said...

This certainly sounds like a deep and emotional novel but one worth reading. I'm going to check it out further.

Samantha said...

Hi Sandy

I have about 85 pages to go on this one (called Alone i Berlin outside the US) and I am just taking "a breather" before I plunge into the ending. I agree with you, this book has been an amazing and eye-opening trip. It is excellent to get the story from an "insider" on the other side.

ds said...

See? I did come over from C.B.'s (how did I miss this the first time?). You two will have me seriously reading WWII stuff in short order--and it is way out of my comfort zone. Excellent review.

Anna said...

Hi Sandy! We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

hansfallada.com said...

I am so glad to see another great review of this book! For those who thinks it sounds depressing - yes it is, but it does contain humor and warmth in its depictions of ordinary people ("good" and "bad") going about their lives in a difficult time.

mynovelreviews said...

I saw this in the bookstore and felt compeled to buy it - sounds like I am in for an intense read.

James Mwangi said...

This is one of the best written works of history of all time. I can only like Hans Fallada to the African Chinua Achebe but still a comparison short of authentic comparison. During a summer trip to Germany last year I stumbled upon it from my host and after reading the book I felt like I actually lived the Third Reich era. A later visit to the Gestapo site (Topography of Torture) and I could relate to the facts there better than most people. For a work that powerful written within such a short time only proves the great ability possessed by Fallada!