Alone In Berlin (Every Man Dies Alone)

UK Penguin edition

Fear permeates Hans Fallada’s gripping novel Alone In Berlin ( Every Man Dies Alone, US title). Visceral, soul-numbing paranoia and fear suffuses everyday life for the ordinary people who populate this sweeping saga of Nazi Germany during World War II. Rescued from the graveyard of forgotten books, and translated into English for the first time since its publication in 1947, Alone In Berlin is a compelling, unsentimental and authentic depiction of daily life under Nazi rule.

Until quite recently, I purposely put off reading this ambitious literary resurrection. While the reviews have been consistently positive, and even Alan Furst called it “one of the most extraordinary and compelling novels ever written about World War II”, I didn’t think that I had the emotional space for another WW II book. Then I saw the cover quote from Primo Levi: “The greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis” and, of course, I had to read it.

Without a doubt, Fallada’s epic is a morally powerful, literary triumph and worth the emotional commitment, however, I have some reservations. With apologies to the late Primo Levi and the great Alan Furst, do the ridiculously small acts of defiance (if they even qualify as defiance) portrayed in the novel really have profound meaning in the context of the horror of Nazi atrocities? It’s cold-comfort to consider that the ineffectual, anonymous postcard writing campaign that inspired the book was viewed as a significant anti-Nazi action. Clearly, any resistance to the Nazi regime was heroic, and the personal campaign by Elise and Otto Hampel that inspired Fallada’s book was extraordinary, but the reality is that very few Germans actively opposed the Nazis.

Is all of the attention that has been focused on Alone In Berlin based on the merits of the book as literature? Is it the novelty of its literary resurrection after six decades? Or is it rooted in the disturbing historical revisionism that seems to be clouding the ugly realities of World War II memories?

US edition Melville House

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2 Responses to Alone In Berlin (Every Man Dies Alone)

  1. William Becker says:

    Interesting take on the book. Do you refer to German historians or somebody else when you write about “revisionism” ? I thought that the book was over long and needed a good editor to tighten up the story line. Still thought provoking nonetheless.

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