Friday, 24 October 2014

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

To alter the poster: Is this novel really necessary? I mean necessary to have read and that is placed as the keystone to an understanding of what happened to the Germans under the Nazis. I believe it is. It answers the question: how do you remain decent even if your resistance is not just personally futile but drags others to their deaths? If ever there was a test to destruction of the Categorical Imperative this was it. Helpless, powerless people can always do one small thing and what Foreman Otto decides is based on the true story of the Hempels who left postcards denouncing Hitler in offices and building all over Berlin for years. They hoped to incite resistance or at least a foot-dragging amongst the civilians. Fallada wrote the novel in 24 days and the hallucinatory intensity of the writing was likely aided by pharmaceutical stoking. There is no pause in the tension and though we want Otto Quangel and his wife Anna to come through, it can only end one way.

Along with the central characters of Otto and Anna there are police informants who allied to Gestapo Inspector Escherich try to trace the author of the postcards. Cunning deviants and thugs abound and the portrait of Obergruppenfuhrer Prall leaves no doubt that the Second World War was necessary. His like probably emerged after de-nazification with a sense of having been fooled by Hitler.

The translation I read is by Michael Hoffman and it reads smoothly. ‘Beauty is slowness’ said Ezra Pound who escaped hanging, pardoned for writing well as the poet said. No slowness here, so no lyrical interludes, no soaring, only burying in ground well trodden by jackboots. In the Modern Classic Penguin there is an extensive afterword with some excellent background notes.

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