151 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nazism in microcosm - Remarkable
This book grew on me more and more as I read it. At first I had to adjust to some of the phraseology - whether this is because it was written by a German in the 1940s or is the result of the translation I don't know. But what was remarkable about it was the way in which the characters came alive. There is a satirical edge to a couple of the characters but this works...
Published on 24 April 2009 by D. P. Mankin
75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, if not a classic
Alone in Berlin is frighteningly engaging portrait of how evil can spread through every facet of people's lives. Fallada's characters, the ordinary populace of wartime Berlin, suffer under the yoke of a Nazi regime who's footsoldiers barge and bully around the city reveling in a state sanctioned thuggery that allows them to control and terrorise their own countrymen...
Published on 13 May 2010 by D. Salmon
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151 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nazism in microcosm - Remarkable,
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling - terrifying,
A sobering read but one that I think is necessary to remind ourselves of just how awful conditions were in Germany during this regime. There was no glamour, no sense of superiority - at least not for the mass of people. Just grinding fear, mistrust, and despair.
208 of 217 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, page-turning moral thriller set in wartime Berlin,
103 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Believe the hype,
The events, based on a true story, take place in Berlin under the grip of Nazi rule. One elderly couple, Otto and Anna Quangle, learn of the death of their only son fighting in the German army, and the futility of this ending changes something inside Otto. He starts to resist the Nazi regime in a very low level but profound way. He writes postcards with subversive messages on them, asking people to question what the Nazi's are doing and what they are telling the people. He leaves them in apartment blocks and offices on stairwells for random strangers to find. He performs this task alone at first, but later his wife Anna finds out and joins him in his mission.
The Gestapo are infuriated by this postcard campaign, which goes on for over two years, and leaves them floundering in the dark looking for the culprit. The novel is a great thriller as the police try to track down who is daring to oppose the Nazi regime in such an infuriating way, and their inept attempts at investigating the crime make both gripping and amusing reading. What is remarkable for me about this book is that is shows just what a chilling effect the terrifying Nazi dictatorship had on ordinary people, who had a range of reactions to it, from enthusiastic embrace, to indifference, to resistance and defiance. And the patchwork quilt of characters that Fallada weaves into the story is rich and extensive. The tentacles of fear reach into the hearts of families and communities, making people react in gross and frightening ways. This book exposes what ordinary people suffer under brutal dictatorships, and how their behaviour is warped by their experiences, far more than any historical account could do. It is a page turner of a thriller. It is a history lesson. It is a tragedy.
And Fallada himself was a tragic figure. His real name was Rudolph Ditzen, and he died of a morphine overdose before this book was published, which was something of an accurate reflection of a life plagued as it was by mental illness and addiction. But his gem of a novel captures the terror of what it was for ordinary people to life under the shadow of the Nazis like nothing else has for me. Superb.
75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, if not a classic,
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)Alone in Berlin is frighteningly engaging portrait of how evil can spread through every facet of people's lives. Fallada's characters, the ordinary populace of wartime Berlin, suffer under the yoke of a Nazi regime who's footsoldiers barge and bully around the city reveling in a state sanctioned thuggery that allows them to control and terrorise their own countrymen.
Perhaps the book's most effective device is the recognisable domestic normality of its characters, it becomes chilling to realise Nazi Germany was no cartoon villain, but a very real evil that invaded every single inhabitant's freedom and privacy with its idea of what constituted a 'pure' state.
When a couple's son is killed in action, they undertake a humble rebellion, leaving handwritten postcards critical of the regime in public places. At first it seems a pathetic gesture, but when even such small defiances guarantee a death sentence, their bravery becomes both affirming and admirable. The book is compelling in its demonstration that to think and act decent in a climate of fear and hatred is the greatest rebellion of all.
It is however slightly overlong, which may be due in part to the translation being slightly wooden and American at times.
Still, a good book and a definite recommend to anyone interested in the period. The description of the domestic, as opposed to military, impact of National Socialism is a refreshing and thought provoking take on what should never be assumed is an overfamiliar subject.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the wait,
This is a magnificent piece of atmospheric writing, in a surprisingly clear and modern idiom, which captures the chillingly alienated world that must have been civilian life in Germany during the Second World War. I have read extensively about Germany in the 20th century,which never fails to fascinate me - whether it be politics, economics, society or whatever. This novel, by an author I only discovered thanks to an advert on Amazon, was almost a revelation when it comes to describing what it must have been like at ground level to live the nazi nightmare on a daily basis. The sheer indifference to mindless brutality, and the all pervasive fear and suspicion among everyday people, where nobody trusted anyone, is magically conveyed in this small scale story of a brave non-conformist worker doing his own tiny bit to repudiate his country's universal resignation to state thuggery.
Although riveting in its own nightmarish way, this is the opposite of an epic novel. It is drawn on a small canvas, and perhaps for that reason alone does not quite qualify for 5 stars. If 5 stars are to have any real value, then they must be reserved for the few universal masterpieces of literature - whether it be Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Flaubert etc.
Alone in Berlin is an exceptional work, however, and should not be missed by anyone interested in the period.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding, heartbreaking book,
I was even more impressed to learn that Alone in Berlin is based on an actual SS file that was handed to Hans Fallada after he was released from a Nazi insane asylum at the end of WW2. This superb book took him only 24 days to write but yet he didn't live long enough to see it published.
70 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dramatic story of resisting Nazi rule,
The novel opens in a house in Berlin, 55 Jablonski Strasse, a multi-occupancy building where an elderly Jewish woman lives on the top floor, a Nazi loyalist family below her, and on the ground floor Judge Fromm, a retired and resisting judge who seeks to honour the rule of law. Above the judge live the main characters in the book, Otto and Anna Quangel a quiet and self-contained couple. Otto Quangel is noted for his stern, taciturn manner and in the factory where he works as supervisor he has no friends but is respected for his ability to get things done. His wife is obedient and respectful of her husband, a classic Haus Frau. However, when the Quangel's learn that their only son has been killed in the war they are are unable to sustain their grudging acceptance of the political situation.
The death of their son slowly enrages the Quangels and although they have lived a mildly reclusive life until now, refusing to join the Nazi Party and keeping themselves to themselves, they begin a campaign of resistance by writing postcards which Otto drops in various locations around the city, hoping that these will foment a wider revolt against the Party.
The book is populated by a wide range of other characters. The low-life criminal Emil Borkhausen and his pathetic accomplice Enno Kluge, the Nazi Persicke family, the brave Trudel Baumann, fiancée of the Quangel's dead son, and many others. For this is a book which attempts to give a picture of the wide-ranging responses to the regime, from total loyalty through to heroic resistance passing through the usual criminals and corrupt police officers who would survive whatever the circumstances.
Although the book is mainly concerned with the Quangels and their rebellious postcard enterprise, the cast of characters enables the author to provide many dramatic narratives which inter-weave throughout the book providing a fascinating picture of life in this sector of Berlin. The police hunt to find the writer of the postcards provides a comic back-drop to the unfolding human crises and tragedies. Fallada was a great story teller, and at times this book is a glorious soap-opera of domestic dramas while the bigger picture of Nazi brutality continues in the background.
However, the story keeps returning to the ill-fated Quangels, where their shared enterprise in some ways renews their marriage and enables them to act in concert in their acts of minor defiance. Their story reaches its inevitable conclusion, and Fallada gives us a terrible picture of what happens to those who try to undermine the regime in however petty a way. By the end of the book this reader realised that the humour and amusement in many of the pages is actually a vehicle for a very serious set of messages which may have been too much to take on their own.
We read that Hans Fallada led "a very tortured life: an alcoholic and morphine addict, who spent roughly a seventh of his life in prison". The Wikipedia entry on the author reveals that Fallada wrote this novel in 24 days and died just weeks before its publication. Certainly the urgency of the writing comes across strongly in the novel, and occasionally its lack of polish can be seen, but in a way which implies passion rather than carelessness. I am convinced that this book is rightly categorised as a classic. This excellent translation by Michael Hofman will surely bring it a wider audience who can only affirm its significance as a classic of 20th century world fiction.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anger and Doubt,
However, I think his decision to stay in Nazi Germany, given who he was, was a grave moral error and he then fell uneasily into the position of artist under a totalitarian regime. My sense is that the recent Penguin translation of this novel with the accompanying notes provided to the reader in the form of an after-word, and the many glowing reviews, give him too easy a pass on this subject. But not having faced such circumstances (as an author) who am I to judge?
The fact that Fallada wrote under the Nazis, and wrote this book at the suggestion of the nascent Soviet-led East German regime, in no way diminishes the triumph of this novel, nor the power of one who bore witness.
The man who was truly alone in Berlin (or just outside to be precise) was Fallada, alone with his conscience; when a doctor in the book shoots morphine to ease his moral failings, Fallada (who was also a morphine addict) shoots himself with honesty.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and redemptive,
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)Alone in Berlin is a novel that manages to be dark and horrifying yet human and redemptive at the same time. At its core is the story of Otto and Anna Quangel, an elderly, working-class Berlin couple whose quiet acceptance of the Nazi regime comes into question following news of the death of their only son at the front. Their decision to drop postcards denouncing the party's actions has repercussions not only on themselves but the whole, nearly Dickensian cast of characters who are drawn in by association, from a petty criminal hoping to rob his elderly Jewish neighbour under the party's auspices to a detective who is essentially politically neutral but who loves the thrill of the chase. All these figures share an essential sense of despair and isolation- when nobody knows who to trust, even kind actions are open to suspicion yet kindness and humanity also make appearances where they are least expected.
At first the novel is a bit hard to read -whether because of the translation or older, German turns of phrase it is hard to tell- but as the tension mounts, it draws one in to the point where this becomes scarcely noticeable. What is so extraordinary about this novel is that while it reads like a historical novel it's not- it's entirely contemporary and offers a rare insight into what it was like to live in Nazi Germany as an ordinary person.
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Alone in Berlin (Penguin Modern Classics) by Hans Fallada