on March 25, 2000
The story of the life of the little man Johannes Pinneberg and his love in the Weimar Republic (Germany before Hitler). It accurately presents the hardship of people in the worldwide economic crisis in the 30ies. Pinneberg is a salesman who believes himself above the proletarians. He strives for a bourgeois kind of lifestyle. But after marrying his struggle for survival begins with his social decline. Pinneberg learns: you have to work like an animal or you won't work at all. The book is a story about money, hardship and the constant threat of failure. But one thing prevails: love.
The book is one of my all-time favorites. If you don't mind reading books that are literature at the same time I highly recommend it.
on May 20, 2002
This novel provides an interesting look at Germany in the years between World War I and II. As I read it and saw got an understanding of the depths of economic depression the country was in, I began to have a better grasp of how Hitler was able to mesmerize the nation and take power -- he spoke in a way that made people think he'd restore their pride and prosperity.
The story itself is fairly basic. I liked how Fallada wrapped the lessons about history and the economic/political situation around the simple tale of a young couple trying to raise a family and survive in the Depression. The characters were a little stereotypical and could have had more depth, but in general they were quite interesting. The pace of the novel was good. The book was a bit long, but Fallada is a good enough writer that it didn't bother me too much. This book is a good read that any history buff will certainly enjoy.
on May 4, 2009
"Little Man, What Now?" is a story that, while set against the backdrop of the waning days of the Weimar Republic, is simply about a man trying to determine his role in society, and all of the things--wife, job, class, and home--that comprise it. Indeed, as Fallada tells his tale of the time period through the eyes of the newly-married Johannes and Lammchen, he puts faces and names on the poverty that spread through Germany like wildfire during the Interwar period. Reading this nearly 80 years after the first publication, I am delighted by the sardonic humor that Fallada chose to employ and the thick description of his prose. It places you smack dab in the middle of Germany in the 30s, but not without a wink or two.
on January 1, 2010
I found this book thoroughly engrossing. After what can seem to be a slow start, the plot thickens beautifully and the narrative becomes more and more filled with pathos. I found myself being slowly drawn into the world of these characters to the extent that I wound up constantly fretting over their fate.
Emma and Johannes Pinneberg are newlyweds trying to live a decent life in the straitened circumstances of Weimar Germany. Emma has recently become pregnant, and so a heavy burden of responsibility has fallen upon the shoulders of her young husband. But Johannes is in difficulties: it's virtually impossible for him to find work or decent lodgings, and so he shuffles between a demeaning job - from which he hangs by a thread - and a squalid domestic setting, which his wife (a strong figure) is always trying to make the best of.
Three scenes linger in the memory. At one point, the gravid and exhausted Emma has to wander all over Berlin looking for an affordable apartment. But because she is expecting, she is an unwelcome prospect for any landlord, and so she staggers from one disappointment to the next like an Antarctic explorer desperately seeking a depot. As a picture of hostile urban desolation, the rendering is quite powerful.
Secondly, there is Johannes' inner thoughts as he walks through the Tiergarten and sees the wretchedness of the unemployed about him:
'Pinneberg had the feeling, despite the fact that he was about to become a wage-earner again, that he was much closer to those non-earners than to people who earned a great deal. He was one of them, any day he could find himself standing here among them, and there was nothing he could do about it. He had no protection. He was one of millions. Ministers made speeches to him, enjoined him to tighten his belt, to make sacrifices, to feel German ... They couldn't care less whether I can afford to go to the cinema or not, whether Lammchen can get proper food or has too much excitement, whether the shrimp is happy or miserable. Nobody gives a damn.'
And finally there is the unforgettable penultimate scene. A hostile policeman chases Johannes away from the shop-window he was harmlessly gazing into, and Johannes makes the devastating realisation that his penury - which is no fault of his own - has turned him into a kind of tramp, someone whom he does not even recognise.
I can't think of another author who better depicts human goodness set against pitiless surroundings. ('Every Man Dies Alone', another of Fallada's novels, was actually harrowing in this respect.) 'Little Man, What Now' gives the human face to what it must really have been like to be middle-class in the imploding economy of a once-proud country. A sensation of falling down a hole in slow motion suffuses this tale. And yet the Pinnebergs, though they squabble, remain a loyal couple, primarily because Johannes has married a good woman. If this were a novel written by Richard Yates (author of 'Revolutionary Road', the masterwork of marital strife) there would be a ringing note of despondency and doom throughout. But Fallada is different. However adverse the surroundings, he still manages to write characters that look up. A story of despair it is not. Thus it's a story for our times.
on June 30, 2009
Having recently read and enjoyed "Every man Dies Alone," I decided to give this book a turn and wasn't disappointed. As advertised, this novel give a true to life feel for everyday life in pre-World War II Berlin--with all kinds of charming and not-so charming characters. Very touching at times; it has its own low key sense of suspense that keeps the interest level high. My only complaint would be the brief descriptors which precede each chapter. They kind of give things away before you get a chance to read about them.
on December 29, 2009
"Little Man What Now?" was a popular success when published in Germany in 1932, and an international best seller in translation. Made into a Hollywood film, its success continued, but the fact that the producer was Jewish may have helped bring the author Hans Fallada into disfavor with the National Socialist regime. Fallada was certainly the victim of Nazi hatred; he spent most of WW2 imprisoned in an asylum, where he secretly wrote "The Drinker". But the oppression is a little odd, considering that "Little Man What Now?" is hardly a political activist's novel. Both the National Socialists and the Communists are acknowledged to exist, but the Little Man, 'Sonny' Pinneberg, is neither. He's just a decent, simple bloke trying to stay afloat economically and emotionally in a depression environment of unemployment, inflation, unrest, and violent social polarization... an environment remarkably like the USA today. That's the 'timely' part of this book. Pinneberg's difficulties would seem awfully familiar to laid-off workers in Detroit, Philadelphia, or Oakland. Perhaps it was Fallada's impartiality, or rather the apolitical nature of his Little Man hero, that made his work unacceptable to the Third Reich.
Despite any and all hardships, the Little Man doesn't succumb to the allure of Nazism or Communism. He offends some of his 'home boys' by refusing to turn to crime. He resists the temptations of alcohol, low life, beggary, and suicide. Much of his strength comes from his wife, Lammchen, whose indomitable bounty of love and trust makes her one of the classic 'working class' women in all of literature. That's the 'timeless' part of the book; the two main characters are 'real' down to their toenails. Lesser characters are also brilliantly plausible and individualized, even the eccentric nudist Heilbutt and the Little Man's disreputable bawdy Mother. The novel may depict the gloomy decadence of Berlin at the end of the Weimar debacle, but it's replete with picturesque settings and characters. It's funny, as well as perversely 'heart-warming'. I haven't seen the old movie, but I could imagine Jimmy Stewart playing Pinneberg, with a musical score gradually shifting from clangorous brass to mellow strings. Or Charlie Chaplin, of course. A hybrid Stewart/Chaplin would be best of all. One almost has to think of Chaplin's "Modern Times" while reading Little Man What Now? Pinneberg is a white-collar salesman, not a factory worker, but he is as brutally oppressed by 'capitalism' and 'efficiency' as any character in Zola or Dickens.
This early novel by Hans Fallada reminds me quite a lot of the works of the American Theodore Dreiser, both in themes and in style. Fallada's style is blunt, forcefully plain, determinedly non-literary. Critics like to discuss his work as representative of the movement in German art and writing called "The New Factuality." That would link him to such writers as Alfred Doeblin in Germany or John Dos Passos in America, but the linkage is weak at best. Doeblin and Dos Passos combined a stream-of-consciousness with the externality of 'found art'. Little Man What Now? is far less self-conscious. No one will find it a difficult book to read. Nobody will damn it with faint praise for being 'experimental'. It was popular precisely because it's easy to read and even easier to feel sympathy for. Fallada's later books, translated to English as The Drinker and No Man Dies Alone, are worlds away both in style and in mood.
Don't be lured to this book by the notion that it depicts "The Rise of Hitlerism" and the debauchery of 1932 Germany. It does portray 'hard times', but chiefly as a backdrop to the human drama of the Little Man, his 'Lammchen', and their unplanned, much-wanted Baby, whom they call The Shrimp. Great book! Timeless! Timely! What more could you ask for?