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Every Man Dies Alone: A Novel Paperback – March 30, 2010
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
The two primary characters, Otto and Anna Quangel, receive a letter informing them that their son, a soldier in the German Wehrmacht, has been killed in the invasion of France. The Quangels later decide to engage in a secret plan to inform Germans about the reality of Nazism—leaving anonymous messages on postcards in places throughout Berlin—a decision that sets off a series of events and an intense manhunt that demonstrates what life was really like in the Third Reich. The characters include neighbors like a distraught Jewish woman, a retired prosecutor, a family of hard-core Nazis, a small time criminal informer and his sometime accomplice. Others range from a somewhat sympathetic Gestapo investigator, a prison chaplain based on the Tegel prison pastor Harald Poelchau and a Nazi judge, Feisler, based on the notorious Roland Freisler.
Hans Fallada (pseudonym of Rudolf Ditzen) was a troubled writer who remained in Germany during the Third Reich—a decision that was condemned by Thomas Mann. But his story is so believable because only one who lived through the day-to-day reality of Nazi Germany could have described the incongruities and gray areas that everyone experienced. The moral of the story is that resistance, whatever its form, preserves that dignity and worth of humanity in an inhuman world.
Fallada’s story is loosely based on a real-life couple. He wrote the book in less than four weeks in November 1946. He died as a result of various addictions on February 5, 1947. This edition, which restored a number of edits from the original published edition, came out 60 years later. Although we Americans are prone to hyperbole and love to rank everything, I won’t write that it was best book I’ve ever read. But I do have a hard time naming any that are its equal. Five stars don’t seem adequate for this truly majestic, humanistic novel.