Hans Fallada spent some time writing this book, doing other pieces and then coming back to it, and it does show to a certain extent, it isn't as 'tight' as some of his books. Ever since I first read Alone in Berlin (Penguin Modern Classics) I have been reading Fallada books when they have come out in English, and I have enjoyed them all, although so far this is my least favourite one.
We first meet Willi Kufalt when he is in prison, and we follow him through his last days there and out into the big wide world. Kufalt is trying to go straight but like so many others in his situation it isn't that necessarily easy. As we see through him and other characters that have done time, life isn't easy, especially when people know you are an ex-convict. Starting off at what is in some ways a half way house we see how these people are cheated and abused.
This is a very good read and the main characters are well drawn. There are a few times though where I felt that perhaps a bit of pruning may have helped to keep the momentum of the story going. Hans Fallada served time himself so he knew what he was writing about, and he was also an advocate for prison reform as he saw the obstacles in the way of someone newly released. This passion of his does come across in this book, as you wonder whether it wouldn't just be easier to commit a crime and end up back inside; indeed some characters do, after all 'better the devil you know'.
The title says it all. Willi Kufalt is in prison as the book opens, looking forward to his imminent release. But life on the outside turns out to be in many ways harder than life on the inside. Whenever it seems things are beginning to go his way, his past catches up with him and life once again defeats him. It’s a sad little story, very much rooted in its time and place – Germany of the 1920s and 30s – but much of it still seems very relevant. Without support and opportunities for employment very often going back to jail doesn't seem such a bad option. This is not one of Fallada’s best books but it’s very readable and enjoyable; a bit too long perhaps but nonetheless I very much enjoyed it and felt deeply for poor Willi Kufalt.
I found the pace of the story to be too slow but still an interesting read, but it was a bit of a 'task' to complete the book. Not to the same standard as "Alone In Berlin" which was a book I enjoyed immensely. I might tackle "The Drinker" as the reviews are very positive.