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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Hans Fallada was the nom de plume of one Rudolf Ditzen, a German novelist whose best known work is probably the Great Depression novel, "Little Man, What Now?", written in 1932 which in its day was a great international success, even leading to a Universal Pictures film adaptation in 1934. "Jeder stirbt für sich allein" (published in English translation in the USA as "Every Man Dies Alone" and in the UK as "Alone in Berlin") was Fallada's final novel, extraordinarily written in just 24 days in October and November 1946, being completed but not published by the time of the author's death in February 1947. The book takes as its basis the true war-time story of Otto and Elise Hampel who over a period of three years baffled both the Police and the Gestapo by distributing hundreds of postcards all over Berlin, urging acts of civil disobedience and work-place sabotage. Despite the ineffectiveness of their propaganda campaign -- all but a few of their cards were handed into the authorities within hours -- the couple nevertheless enraged the Gestapo, who became convinced that the cards were the work of a large and well-orchestrated underground conspiracy, rather than just two people working silently and alone.

Having himself lived through the privations of the Nazi years and suffered their strictures at first hand (particularly as he was not exactly in favour with the Party) Fallada writes with a great incisiveness and authority, not only in his portrayal of officials of the state but also in his depiction of the behaviour of everyday people. "Every Man Dies Alone" is in part satirical and in part invective but is never less than a highly humanist examination of the times, as well as an honest and frank exploration of the depths to which many Germans had to lower themselves simply in order to survive. Fallada portrays the Nazi Party bigotry and corruption as absolute, permitting not the smallest spark of human decency to remain unpunished. He points up the way in which those few who daily struggled to maintain even a semblance of humanity were left feeling so very much alone and isolated; a state in which they perforce maintained themselves or else perpetually risked denouncement, to be followed inevitably by interrogation, incarceration and possibly execution. And yet isolated pockets of human decency did abound, albeit working in small and quiet ways to try to derail the Fascist hegemony, however futile and dangerous their gestures might actually be.

"Every Man Dies Alone" is a compelling and totally gripping tale, initially of suspense and later of self-discovery and redemption. Fallada portrays at length the mean and petty lives which the Nazi political system created, as well as the hopelessness experienced by many in war-time Berlin; the author fair revels in the crass incompetences and internal bickerings of the authorities which for so long kept them from tracking down the conspirators. Many of the small details of the book are partly auto-biographical -- particularly many of the internal struggles of its weaker characters, as well as their experiences at the hands of low-level Party officials and rank-and-file fanaticism -- mirroring as they do Fallada's own personal experiences of those years. Many of the characters -- especially those in positions of power -- come across now more as caricatures or as comic cartoon characters more than as real, solid people but this was probably the way they appeared within an entire nation which had collectively been forced to bury not just its sanity but a great portion of its humanity as well.

This English translation is newly prepared by Michael Hofmann and is a joy to read, capturing in highly idiomatic (contemporary) language Fallada's deadpan delivery of events, whether they be of great brutality or simpering banality. Above all, it comes across as fresh and vibrant, accentuating Fallada's wicked black humour perfectly.

Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Amazing saga of ordinary Germans during the early war years in Berlin. With a brilliant chronological narrative, author Hans Fallada tells the stories of heroic resistance to the Nazi state as well as stories of many less than admirable Germans who simply adapted or took advantage of the criminalization of the state.

Plenty has already been well said by earlier reviewers about this book. I can only add that it would be difficult to find any account of WWII that is more realistic or poignant than Fallada's tale of what can happen --good and bad--when citizens are terrorized by their own government. Wonderful writing and a story that keeps you thinking long after you've finished the book. Highly recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2010
This book should be required reading for not just students of the history of Nazi Germany but for anyone who makes the misinformed claim that the world today is reflecting those times. Hans Fallada brings to life what it was actually like to live and to try and survive during that time in history. Michael Hofmann's translation and foot notes seems to be as close to what Han's was trying to get across to the reader. I challenge anyone to read it and not be affected. This book made it into my top ten of all time.
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Inspired by a true story, this starts in 1940 Berlin. These are the ‘years of disgrace’. The Quangels, are a very solitary, modest and devoted couple. The bird-faced husband, Otto, is a supervisor in a factory that graduates from manufacturing bomb crates to coffins as the war and fate of Germany progresses. To revenge the early loss of their son to combat, Otto randomly deposits anonymous postcards with seditious messages around the city. A succession of Gestapo officers compete to home in on the ‘hobgoblin’, as they call him. This is a world where everyone has something to hide, a world of lost optimism. Thoughts are no longer free. All normal human interactions, of which we learn many from the cast around the central characters, have become laced with increased suspicion, envy, and hidden intentions. One by one people become a cropper with the Gestapo, even its own officers. Near the end, there are temporary rays of light followed by a frightening and surrealistic trial of husband and wife. It’s a long story. The writing frequently breaks from the past into the present for interesting effect. There are also interesting phrases; more than half a century ahead of Donald Rumsfeld, the author coins the phrase “the well-known great unknown”. Plenty of schnapps needed to get through this memorable but grim book.
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on 29 December 2014
Excellent read although had already read ALONE IN BERLIN which was based on this book,but still a good read.
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1 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2010
My brother, who has lived in Germany for the last 35 years, suggested that I might find this book interesting. He read it in German. I got an English translation of it and some vernacular turns of phrase jarred; they seemed too modern for the period in which it is set. I found this distanced me from the narrative.
I have read most of the first section, on the Quangles, and all the characters presented so far are so depressingly unpleasant that I cannot suspend my disbelief and get involved in the story. I expect the story to be grim, set as it is in Germany during World War II, where everyone survives as best he or she can, but for all to be so unpleasant is relentless.
Maybe I will return to the book when I have nothing else to read.
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