20.2.12

Hans Fallada - Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Alone in Berlin)


Rating 8.2

Falada was a talking horse appearing in The Goose-Girl a fairytale written by the Grimm brothers.

When Herr Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen took the nom-de-plume of Hans Fallada, borrowing the first name from another Grimm's fairytale he was far from being the kind of person you would like your children to spend time with.
Claimed insane after having killed a friend in a duel when he was barely 18 year old and for that reason a notorious guest of several mental institutions, he was also addicted to morphine and an alcoholic.

The young troubled Mr Ditzen was an outcast. He spent his time working in the farm fields mostly for financing his drug and drinking habits and trying to compose some poetry while at the sanatorium but without really managing to make it.

And yet, somehow, Ditzen/Fallada was on his way to become one of the most successful German writers of his generation portraying scenes of all but idyllic German life in the difficult years of the Great Depression and the Mark super-inflation.

Despite being labeled as an undesirable author by the rising Nazis, Fallada managed to get by during World War II refusing to leave Germany although constantly intimidated by Goebbels & company who understood his talent and wanted to put it at the service of the Third Reich.

The disturbing beauty and way too underrated importance of Jeder stirbt für sich allein (appropriately translated into Every Man Dies Alone in the US but becoming a milder Alone in Berlin for the British edition of the book) is that Fallada wrote this book at the very end of his short life.
He died before the book got published perhaps not having the time for editing it as he would have liked to.
And yet, Alone in Berlin stands as one of the most powerful last wills in literature you can ever find.


Fallada took inspiration from the real story of a couple of Germans who decided to write hundreds of anti-Hitler postcards during the last years of the regime, leaving them in public places hoping to get a reaction against the Nazis.
Otto and Elise Hampel were not cultured people and eventually failed in their goal to stir the Berlinese people against the Third Reich being discovered and executed, but the strength of their rebellion is nonetheless a great one.

Fallada was given the Hampels file by a friend of his and decided to make a novel out of that forgotten little example of resistance to the Nazi atrocities. And what the author managed to accomplish is an extraordinary portrait of everyday's life in Berlin in the 1940s with an impressing cast of characters and a spy-story plot which reminded me of Graham Greene.


But, if possible, Fallada aimed higher here than what Greene ever did.
And you know what? He got there. Let's keep in mind and never forget that this book was written in 1947, when all the awful memories were fresh and actually the Berlin pictured here was still mostly raised to the ground. 1947 is the very same year in which pen-named Hans Fallada died.

Alone in Berlin is a novel where the triumph belongs to the apparent banality of good demonstrating how it is not only the most-educated people fighting against a regime, but also those who have personal motivations and strong ideals and a tenacious will to win over the evil.

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