The number of books I have to read over the next twelve months dictates that as soon as I’ve finished one, I almost immediately need to start a second. And so it was that having finished Dracula for one of the book clubs I belong to, I began Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin for the second.
Not disimilar to my feelings towards Dracula, I began Alone in Berlin knowing it wasn’t the type of book I would usually chose to read. That my Aunt – one of the most intelligent people I know – had recently read it, did nothing to quell my fears that, as far as literature goes, it might be even further out of my comfort zone that its predecessor.
However, being reassured by the brainchild behind the book club that its plot was a rollicking one, I began one of Hans Fallada’s best known novels in earnest. Published in 1947 under the German title Jeder stirbt für such allein – Every Man Dies Alone, or Alone in Berlin as it’s more commonly known, is based on the true story of an ordinary man’s determination to defy the tyranny of Nazi rule.
The novel opens with elderly couple, Otto and Anna Quangle, who learn of the death of their only son fighting in the German army. Rather than accepting his son’s death, Otto begins to resist the Fuhrer in a subtle yet profound manner by dropping postcards all over Berlin criticizing the Nazi regime.
What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse across Berlin between the Quangels and Gestapo inspector Escherich as he seeks to unveil the perpetrator of the defamatory postcards. Escerich’s incompetence as he tries to track down the culprit so openly denouncing Hitler makes for a gripping read as the hunt for Otto Quangel results in bribery, arrest and the untimely death of a number of the central characters.
A story that fuses betrayal and loyalty, deception and the need for truth, and both love and loss against the harrowing backdrop of Nazi-run Germany, Alone in Berlin is both harrowing and heartbreaking and a quite unforgettable read.
About Alone in Berlin
Inspired by a true story, Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin is the gripping tale of an ordinary man’s determination to defy the tyranny of Nazi rule. This Penguin Classics edition contains an afterword by Geoff Wilkes, as well as facsimiles of the original Gestapo file which inspired the novel.
Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels’ necks…
About Hans Fallada
Hans Fallada was born in Germany in 1893. His life was checkered by a failed adolescent suicide pact in which his friend died, addiction to morphine and alcohol, periods of incarceration in prison and mental hospitals, and brushes with the Nazi regime. His most famous novels include Little Man, What Now?, The Drinker and Alone in Berlin, written in 24 days. Fallada died weeks before its publication, in February 1947 in Berlin.
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