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Little Man, What Now? Paperback – 21 Aug 2009
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"The only novel reviewed in this Broadcast that one can wax really enthusiastic over. And its history in Germany indicates real sales possibilities, as it has rivalled the success of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT over there. An intensely poignant story of two young Germans caught in the tide of the unemployment problem in Germany. There is a resemblance to the theme of NOBODY STARVES, but the approach is lighter, the handling is from the human standpoint rather than the laboratory method, and the tone has an upward lilt that is lacking in the American scene. Germany is more accustomed to grinding poverty, in this generation, and more eager to seize on simple pleasures, and the reflection of this is apparent in the book. One feels that at times there is a showing off of the modern spirit in the method of handling unnecessary subjects, but otherwise the book is intuitively human and natural, and in almost no sense sophisticated. The illustrations are misleading - done in a vein of caricature, by Georges Schreiber. They make the reader expect a satirical book in the Thurber and White tradition. A book the staff should read to sell." --Kirkus Reviews --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Hans Fallada's novels were international best-sellers before the war, similarly acclaimed by those of fellow Germans, Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse. In 1932, Hollywood even turned Little Man What Now into a movie, but when Hitler learned that the film had been produced by Jews, Fallada began to attract the attention of the Gestapo leading in 1935 to him being classified as an "undesirable author".
Fallada's characters are not politically-minded as such, but are among the little people, caught up in the round of daily life where politics gradually impinges on them but without attracting their adherence or enthusiasm. They feel affronted by world events which are slowly wrecking their peaceful lives, but do not move into an analysis of why these titanic changes are happening. Fallada's characters are simply trying to make ends meet, to find a room to live in and to put meat on the table two or three times a week.
The book opens in the gynaecological clinic, where Sonny and Lammchen have gone for advice on contraception, only to hear the doctor say, "Its a bit too late for prevention. Beginning of the second month I would say". On the journey home, Sonny proposes to Lammchen who gratefully accepts, and then being the young couple's troubles.
Sonny's employers taunt him with threats of redundancy, and in any case, his job seemed to depend on him marrying the bosses daughter forcing Sonny to conceal his recent marriage. The truth comes out before too long and the inevitable termination follows soon after.
They move to Berlin where life continues to be fraught with difficulties and disappointments. but among these events, Fallada is able to find space of humour and satire. Some classes of people never suffer whatever happens in the world around them, Sonny's mother being an example of someone who lives between the cracks, holding invitation-only parties at which men come to meet attractive young women who are clearly available for more than just socialising. Her boyfriend, Herr Jachmann is the classic wide-boy, wheeling and dealing his way through 1930s Berlin, a roll of money in his pockets one day, destitute the next, but with a constant optimism which draws others to him, despite his propensity to remove the contents of their wallets from them.
Fallada's books give a fascinating glimpse of what life was like on the ground level while national leaders prepared for war. Fallada's books are immensely readable, and with both Little Man What Now and Alone in Berlin, I found myself speeding through them to find out what happened next. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Europe between the wars.
Hard to believe it was written in 1932. It details the meeting and marriage of a young couple in Berlin a few years before the outbreak of WW2. The birth of their baby, difficulties with finding work and accommodation and their subsequent financial difficulties are set against a background of beautifully drawn characters - family, friends and petty bureaucrats. Mostly these all manage to make life even more difficult for the young couple!
I was cheering on Sonny and Lammchen from start to finish, hoping that their life together could be what they wanted it to be. Rarely did the couple let the myriad obstacles wear them down. Against so many odds, their mutual love shone through and the baby, when it arrived, brought humour, worry and joy in equal measure. Lammchen is an unfailingly loyal and constant source of strength to her husband. Without her support we know for certain that Sonny - a lovely but ultimately powerless young man - would have given up the struggle to achieve the security and simple life they aspired to.
The political situation of the time is subtly but very powerfully brought to life; always brooding in the background or nipping at the periphery of whatever problems they were facing. I felt great sympathy for the adversities they faced.
While I'm here I'd just like to say that 'Alone in Berlin'in UK ('Every Man Dies Alone' USA)is another tour-de-force by Fallada - though a much more brutal portrayal of Berlin life because it's set during the war
'Litte Man, What Now?' is a truly wonderful book, sad, funny, heartwarming, unputdownable - which I cannot recommend highly enough.
It was the unusual and detailed depiction of a little man being tossed about helpless on the waves of an economic storm that ensured the book's success in 1932. Today, however, much of the impact of the story is lost as we read it with the benefit of hindsight and the background of many films, books and documentaries about the 1930s. Undoubtedly Fallada's `Alone in Berlin', depicting the life of simple people trying to register disapproval of the Nazi regime, is a far more mature work with a more complicated plot line, better tension and better use of characterisation, which all combine to make the work great despite our familiarity with Nazi history. Unfortunately this earlier work does not quite manage that achievement.
The book is quite interesting, well written and well translated but the unremitting gloom and somewhat predictable outcome detract from its satisfaction as a good read. The `Afterword' does not add much of interest and little or nothing about the author. The Melville House edition seems to be printed on the poorest quality paper they could find.
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