From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This disturbing novel, written in 24 days by a German writer who died in 1947, is inspired by the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel, who scattered postcards advocating civil disobedience throughout war-time Nazi-controlled Berlin. Their fictional counterparts, Otto and Anna Quangel, distribute cards during the war bearing antifascist exhortations and daydream that their work is being passed from person to person, stirring rebellion, but, in fact, almost every card is immediately turned over to authorities. Fallada aptly depicts the paralyzing fear that dominated Hitler's Germany, when decisions that previously would have seemed insignificant—whether to utter a complaint or mourn one's deceased child publicly—can lead to torture and death at the hands of the Gestapo. From the Quangels to a postal worker who quits the Nazi party when she learns that her son committed atrocities and a prison chaplain who smuggles messages to inmates, resistance is measured in subtle but dangerous individual stands. This isn't a novel about bold cells of defiant guerrillas but about a world in which heroism is defined as personal refusal to be corrupted. (Mar.)
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Fallada wrote this novel in twenty-four days in 1947, the last year of his life; he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and had just been released from a Nazi insane asylum. The story is based on that of an actual working-class Berlin couple who conducted a three-year resistance campaign against the Nazis, by leaving anonymous postcards at random locations around the city. The book has the suspense of a John le Carré novel, and offers a visceral, chilling portrait of the distrust that permeated everyday German life during the war. Especially interesting are the details that show how Nazi-run charities and labor organizations monitored and made public the degree to which individuals supported or eschewed their cause. The novel shows how acts that at the time might have seemed “ridiculously small,” “discreet,” and “out of the way” could have profound and lasting meaning.
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