Hans Fallada — Every Man Dies Alone

I’ve been reading this one slowly, not just because it’s fantastically well-written, but because it’s just extremely powerful and depressing and inspiring all at once. I don’t normally read books written by Germans under the Nazi regime, mostly because the dissidents were either killed or fled, and the remaining works are not something that I have any desire to delve into. I made an exception for Hans Fallada and I wasn’t disappointed.

Every Man Dies Alone depicts the actions of a few Germans living in the Nazi state; some of them clinging to the last shreds of their decency, some of them awful people to begin with. Anna and Otto Quangel are spurred to rebellion after their only son is killed in France, leaving little anti-Hitler postcards all around the town. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a supremely terrible idea–almost all of the cards end up in the hands of the Gestapo, and of course they are eventually caught–but it is their moral and spiritual journey that provide some small redemption both in themselves (and in the choices of some of the other characters), and, as Fallada attempts to depict, for post-Nazi Germany as well.

This is a book that I could only read in little spurts, because it so evocatively depicted the paranoia and terror that even “regular” Germans faced from all around them, and because you fear so for the decent people, that the creeping feelings of dread that intensify throughout the novel are almost overpowering. His scathing indictment of the regime and the types of men who support it is equally intense–you can feel his scorn burning through the pages. Fallada’s writing style, though conversational, occasionally sarcastic, has a flair for the poetic, with the simplest words and actions (particularly the continuing love between Otto and Anna) striking at the heart.

Just a really good, affecting book from a perspective I don’t often consider.

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