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Every Man Dies Alone: A Novel Paperback – March 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

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.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554042
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554042
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (226 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Before WWII, German writer Hans Fallada's novels were international bestsellers, on a par with those of his countrymen Thoman Mann and Herman Hesse. In America, Hollywood even turned his first big novel, Little Man, What Now? into a major motion picture

Learning the movie was made by a Jewish producer, however, the Nazis blocked Fallada's work from foreign rights sales, and began to pay him closer attention. When he refused to join the Nazi party he was arrested by the Gestapo--who eventually released him, but thereafter regularly summoned him for "discussions" of his work.

However, unlike Mann, Hesse, and others, Fallada refused to flee to safety, even when his British publisher, George Putnam, sent a private boat to rescue him. The pressure took its toll on Fallada, and he resorted increasingly to drugs and alcohol for relief. Not long after Goebbels ordered him to write an anti-Semitic novel he snapped and found himself imprisoned in an asylum for the "criminally insane"--considered a death sentence under Nazi rule. To forestall the inevitable, he pretended to write the assignment for Goebbels, while actually composing three encrypted books--including his tour de force novel The Drinker--in such dense code that they were not deciphered until long after his death.

Fallada outlasted the Reich and was freed at war's end. But he was a shattered man. To help him recover by putting him to work, Fallada's publisher gave him the Gestapo file of a simple, working-class couple who had resisted the Nazis. Inspired, Fallada completed Every Man Dies Alone in just twenty-four days.

He died in February 1947, just weeks before the book's publication.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

238 of 248 people found the following review helpful By G M on May 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
More than sixty years have passed since World War II ended, and to me it sometimes seems that the very over-usage of the terms 'Hitler' and 'Nazism' have facilitated the reduction of these historical phenomena to mere talismans of turpitude. In other words, as an *emblem* of wickedness, the Third Reich is ever-present in our consciousness, whilst the everyday reality of the evils it perpetrated has perhaps receded. Hans Fallada's novel, therefore, is hugely important. As a snapshot of the quotidian reality of life in Nazi Germany - particularly the regime's impact on just a handful of ordinary people - it is a gut-wrenching reminder of just how awful the Third Reich was, even within its own borders.

"Every Man Dies Alone" tells the tale of Otto and Anna Quangel, a middle-aged, working-class couple living in Berlin who one day learn via telegram that their only son has been killed during the invasion of France. Their searing grief is infused with a sense of rage that the Nazi regime has destroyed their lives. Yet there is nothing a mere couple can do to resist the Reich. Or is there?

Otto and Anna begin to compose postcards with subversive messages which point to the mendacity of the Nazis and which call upon Germans to resist the regime. Carefully, painstakingly, they drop these cards - one at a time - in stairwells and public buildings. If they are caught, it means certain death. They are surrounded, after all, by a brutalized citizenry comprised of the venal and the weak, people ready to turn them in at any moment. Meanwhile, the Gestapo has intercepted the first of the postcards, and the hunt is on. How long can the Quangels hold out?
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118 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Blue in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Amazing saga of ordinary Germans during the early war years in Berlin. With a brilliant chronological narrative, author Hans Fallada tells the stories of heroic resistance to the Nazi state as well as stories of many less than admirable Germans who simply adapted or took advantage of the criminalization of the state.

Plenty has already been well said by earlier reviewers about this book. I can only add that it would be difficult to find any account of WWII that is more realistic or poignant than Fallada's tale of what can happen --good and bad--when citizens are terrorized by their own government. Wonderful writing and a story that keeps you thinking long after you've finished the book. Highly recommended.
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76 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on July 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to imagine the impact of Hans Fallada's novel on his German contemporaries in 1947. In the years immediately following World War II, hardly any fiction authors who had remained in the country throughout the Nazi regime were even considering the raw topics of the very recent past because they were more concerned with the shaping of the "new" Germany. Yet Fallada, in his characteristic way of observing and writing about the "little people" *), for which he had been widely read before the war, was bursting with everyday stories of the struggles of working class people of the early forties. For him, writing was like an addiction that enabled him to pen the novel in a mere 24 days.

In the fall of 1945, the author came upon a thin Gestapo file on the case of an elderly working class couple and their private futile attempt at stirring resistance against the regime. To honour their memory and to ensure that their suffering was not in vain, Fallada placed Anna and Otto Quangel, as he called them, into the centre of his novel about the struggle for survival of the "little people" during the early war years. He surrounded his heroes with a small, yet diverse and representative group of Berliners, centred around an apartment block in Berlin's working class north. Creating believable characters and vivid scenarios, he conveyed a series of reality snapshots of the social and political conditions of the time. There was the misery of poverty and the constant fear of being denounced, conscripted to the army or sent to a concentration camp for not obeying the orders that controlled people's daily lives.
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66 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Seven Kitties on March 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author's life story almost overshadows this book's own story, which I'm certain other reviewers have covered in depth, so I'll not bore you with a retread. Still, a man who survived the worst the Nazis could throw at him to write this book? He's probably got something important to say.

The story as a novel is compelling: characters are convincing, sympathetic (even a few of the bad guys!), the plot starts slow but ratchets up to a page-riffling pace (even though you really don't want to know how bad things are going to get!), and the setting, though thinly sketched, gives enough to anchor the reader in time and place. More than that, he describes the setting in such a way that you really feel what it might have been like to live in a place where every word, even a kind gesture or look, could be observed by your neighbors and used against you. I can't pin down how he creates that paranoiac atmosphere, but it's brilliantly done.

More than a compelling story with a great atmosphere, though, this novel asks us to question ourselves in many ways: how would we respond to a totalitarian government? What kind of civil disobedience or rebellion would be effective? How easily could any of our actions or lives stand up to scrutiny from a state determined to find us 'wrong'? How 'just' is justice in our world? What is the larger cost of our actions? How very few sadists does it take to control a 'civilized' population?

My general rule of a great novel is if I cry at the end. This was a multiple-kleenex deal. But more than a compelling story, this novel will make you look at Germany itself under the Third Reich in a new way (they weren't all sadistic Nazis) but will make you take a look at the modern world a new way. It almost reads like a prophecy of a totalitarian regime as much as a history. Unmissable.
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