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All That I Am: A Novel Hardcover – February 7, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 203 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A literary work as suspenseful as the best thrillers, Funder’s extraordinary first novel is an unflinching portrait of courage in devastating circumstances. The tale unfolds through the dual reminiscences of Ruth Becker, an elderly resident of Sydney in 2001, and Ernst Toller, eminent playwright and former leader of the short-lived Bavarian Republic. Both belonged to a group of left-wing German activists who were forced into exile in London after Hitler came to power, and who risked everything to alert the world—especially Britain, whose deliberate blindness grows increasingly infuriating in the novel—to the danger the Nazis posed. Settled into New York’s Mayflower Hotel in 1939, Toller reworks his autobiography to make the woman who was its emotional heart live once again. Dora Fabian was Ruth’s cousin and Toller’s lover, and the passionate intensity that defines her political and personal existence blazes through these pages. The moral dilemmas affecting Funder’s characters, all based on historical figures, are as strongly evoked as the repressive environment they inhabit and are brave enough to stand against. --Sarah Johnson

Review

“Funder writes with grace and conviction about the intrusion of the political on the domestic and the thrill of falling in love over a cause.” (New York Times Book Review)

“[An] enthralling historical novel.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)

“In ALL THAT I AM, Anna Funder delivers a sweeping first novel that covers love and war, friendship and betrayal, and the bonds that define a life. It is a moving and ambitious work.” (Ann Patchett)

“A literary work as suspenseful as the best thrillers, Funder’s extraordinary first novel is an unflinching portrait of courage in devastating circumstances.” (Library Journal)

“A spiraling account of political activity and love…this beautiful tapestry of friendship and loyalty during one of history’s darker times will appeal to fans of novels about WWII.” (Library Journal)

“History, like hope, is not something to be solved, but to be carried. Anna Funder has written an essential novel about how we carry the bricks of history on our backs…” (Colum McCann)

“Absorbing debut novel…[Funder] adds an integral perspective on a shopworn subject by invoking the lives of Nazi dissidents whose attempts to alert the world to the growing menace were ignored until it was too late.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Like Hillary Mantel’s brilliant WOLF HALL, Funder’s new book is not just a novel or thriller, and is also far more than mere history.” (Betsey Burton, The King's English Bookshop)

“A bravura piece of storytelling-perfectly plotted, exactingly described…Funder has taken the raw material of truth and from it created a novel of real power and beauty.” (Daily Telegraph (London))

“The strengths of Funder’s writing are emotional and imaginative. In what she has to say about love, loss and betrayal there is profound truth.” (The Times (London))

“A remarkable story told with clarity and precision, along with moments of insight and literary grace.” (Rachel Cusk, The Guardian)

“A strong and impressively humane novel…the subtlety of Anna Funder’s novel is in the elegance of her precise prose, and in her paintstaking portrait of an ordinary woman swept up in extraordinary events…” (Times Literary Supplement (London))

“A brilliant narrative…Every part beautifully rendered and balanced…it works as a gripping spy novel…Funder’s prose raises the book to a different level…This book is a wonder.” (Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator (A Book of the Year))

“A seamless and powerful tale…Funder has successfully transformed the material into a narrative of individual endeavor and survival, which examines universal themes.” (The Independent on Sunday)

“Imaginative, compassionate and convincing…In her first novel, Funder combines her proven gift for re-creating the past with the fiction writer’s license to reveal emotional truth through artifice.” (Wall Street Journal)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062077562
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062077561
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #376,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harold Wolf TOP 50 REVIEWER on December 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Historical, face-slapping consciousness, profound characterization. Forces readers to terms with human failure of the past. `All That I Am' is Anna Funder's first novel, not her first good book. Here Funder offers an intellectual novel-literary journey depicting a Jewish woman and man caught up in personal and political opposition to their country's (Germany) direction. They reflect from two different era's she in 2001, he in the 1930's, through memory leaps to a past activist camaraderie. Readers are strained looking through the psyche of Ruth and Toller, feeling momentary joys, pains, fears as experienced in the fray. Ruth & Toller permit your glimpse of Dora the delectable, the indescribable, the tough, the mystifying. There was a magnitude of need inside them to disclose foreseen holocaust, yet a bald united humanness of living life lustfully.

Not romantic, but there are affairs; not a pretty 20th century picture of war, Nazi politics, and this coterie's struggle to warn Europe. Expect to FEEL loss, sacrifice, struggle; expect to judge; expect an inglorious sweetless end. It's not light reading, not cozy heart-warming. It's bitter struggle, life lived on the edge, loss, exile, and honest failures enough to show it is more nonfiction than fiction.

It's a much preferred novel structure for this historical material over the textbook-history nonfiction alternative. See the dark side of nationality/religious politics -sometimes as disturbing as today's front page news.

Bottom line: It takes a few pages to get used to the skipping from one era to another, one location and then back, and the personalities, but it's worth the preliminary perplexity to get into this riveting read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Do you ever think back and remember what you were doing when you heard about the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001? Or when you heard John Lennon was assassinated? Or Bobby Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy? Or maybe you can go back farther still and recall how you felt when you heard about Kent State? And even farther, about Pearl Harbor? We often do this-attempt to parallel our personal memories with history-and that is how Anna Funder's powerful debut novel, All That I Am: A Novel, opens. No, I think I would rather say that that is how Anna Funder allows history to explode, to burst open...like an embolism in the brain.

The novel opens-"When Hitler came to power I was in the bath." This is the memory of Dr Ruth Becker Wesemann, a very old woman in Sydney, Australia, diagnosed with plaguing of the brain which causes not only her short-term memory loss but also more vivid long-term recollections. "I feel sane enough-young enough-to experience loss as loss. Then again, nothing and no one has been able to kill me yet."

It is the year 2001 and Ruth unexpectedly receives a package from Columbia University in New York. It contains documents from 1939 belonging to a Mr Ernst Toller as well as a first edition of Mr Toller's autobiography, I WAS A GERMAN, with a handwritten note 'For Ruth Wesermann.' The book will enable Ruth to go back in time, back to the early 1930's and her beloved homeland of Germany. As Ruth is stirred by the contents of Toller's book, she reminds us about the power of memory in our battle with our minds, a battle against forgetting our past, forgetting history.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Anna Funder's debut novel, "All That I Am" was a difficult book to review. A good novel should have either a strong plot or strong characters. Funder's novel has neither. I wasn't invested in either plot or characters until the end of the book, where the plot picked up and the characters became clearer.

Told by two voices, "Ruth" and "Toller", the book is set in many places and time periods. London in 1933, Germany during and after WW1, Sydney in the recent past, and New York City in 1939 are a few of the settings. There were four main characters, Dora and her cousin Ruth, and Ernst Toller and Hans Wesemann, both WW1 veterans, writers, and, along with the women, members of an organisation of left-leaning German refugees determined to get the word out about what was happening in Nazi Germany. However, as danger of Nazi reprisals grow, allegiances are torn apart. Betrayals abound but Funder actually ties things up nicely in the end.

After finishing the book, I read the afterword where Funder tells the reader that the story is based on actual historic figures and their work. And here's where I think Anna Funder may have made a mistake in her writing. The story of Dora Fabian, Ruth Blatt, Ernst Toller, Hans Wesemann would have made excellent, straight-forward telling as a work of non-fiction. As fiction, Funder has to invent and imagine scenes and personalities, and I didn't feel her writing was as strong as it should be. The end of the book was stronger because she was working with solid fact.

It's presumptuous and rather rude for an amateur reviewer to take an author to task. I don't like writing a review like that, but I did finish Funder's novel wanting to know more about the characters' actual lives.
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