Merrimon Book Reviews

Little Man, What Now


The Drinker
From Merrimon Book Reviews
Every Man Dies Alone
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
by Hans Fallada

Trust and resistance; ordinariness and heroism

First published in 1947, the first English translation of EVERY MAN DIES ALONE is part of three-book simultaneous publisher release together with LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? and THE DRINKER. Once bestsellers in America, the works of Hans Fallada now are relatively obscure due to Hitler's order that his books could no longer be sold outside Germany.  Even after an arrest by the Gestapo for his refusal to join the Nazi Party, Hans Fallada stayed in Germany.  Written after the fall of the Reich, Hans Fallada wrote EVERY MAN DIES ALONE based on the Gestapo file of a real couple who resisted the Nazis.  Now available to a new generation of English speakers, EVERY MAN DIES ALONE stands as a haunting portrait of the life experienced under the Nazi rule and an even more chilling portrait of the dynamics within a society when the basic bonds of trust in institutions and one another are broken by a ruthless government.  Against all this, Hans Fallada tells the story of one couple's determined resistance to speak out against the lies.

Foreman Otto Quangel and his wife Anna are law abiding citizens.  Skeptical of the the value of many of the war-time organizations and the corruption that went along with the propaganda, they never joined the Nazi Party.  Nevertheless, their son joined the military.  No one would brand them traitors or even malcontents.  When news of their son's death reaches them, one comment by Anna to her husband leads him to question his implicit support of Hitler.  Determined to make some kind of stand, he bands together with his wife to counter the propaganda of the regime.  Alongside their story, Hans Fallada depicts the lives of the Quangels' neighbors and countrymen, from an older woman desperate for love and the ever present snitches to the horrifying life of a Jewish woman and the man attempting to save her, from Inspector Escherich determined to catch the Quangels to the judge within the state-run court system.  Hans Fallada gives readers an inside look at the life as it might have been experienced by a wide range of characters in Germany during World War II.  Economic deprivation touches every aspect of life.  Corruption, a thriving black market and a desperation to remain safe at all costs, even to the point of turning a blind eye to the horrors of a society turned against itself influence the decisions of the characters. 

With a quote from Primo Levi describing this book as "the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis," what reader of resistance or WWII literature can resist
EVERY MAN DIES ALONE?  With these authors' personal history behind them and known to today's readers, this quote has a weight more intense than the author marketing blurbs across covers of current day bestsellers.  For this reader, EVERY MAN DIES ALONE lived up to Primo Levi's estimation.  Hans Fallada describes the very act of resistance on an intimate level, not only in the marriage of the Quangels, but its effects on all those lives connected to the Quangels.  The grand success or failure of their resistance is less important than the very act of resistance and the surety that they must resist.  Through the portrayal of Quangels, Hans Fallada strips away all the questions of effectiveness or results used as excuses for inaction to focus on the effects the resistance not only on the individuals as the resistance begins to define them rather than the lies, but also the rippling effect outward to others, often those one would least expect.  Alongside the story of the Quangels' heroic decision to act, Hans Fallada tells a chilling tale of a regime so focused on rooting out dissension that not even its defenders are immune from scrutiny. 

EVERY MAN DIES ALONE is a fast-paced read.  Certainly, the desire to know the outcome hastens one's reading speed, but the prose itself has a directness and beautiful simplicity that draws the reader into the story.  I carried this book with me everywhere until I made it to the last page and then quickly ordered another in the three-book simultaneous release.  The non-heroic portrait of the Quangels, indeed their very ordinariness at the beginning of the story as well as their simple, small action makes this fictional story of resistance have an even greater impact than if he had portrayed them as more classically heroic figures.  In some ways, the Quangels are like Everyman.  EVERY MAN DIES ALONE will appeal to readers wanting to explore the horrors of the Nazi regime from within and its effects on the citizens and the society.  In addition,
EVERY MAN DIES ALONE will appeal to English speaking lovers of literary fiction, creating a fuller picture of the place of Hans Fallada in the pulse of historic German literature.  While many authors escaped Nazi Germany, Hans Fallada did not.  His fiction gives readers a look at German literature and society from the inside looking within.

Publisher: Melville House (March 2009)
Translator: Michael Hoffman

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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