Book of the Year – Every Man Dies Alone

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Every Man Dies Alone

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I began Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. Having read an enormous wealth of WWII related stories via Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass, I didn’t know if I had yet another war era story in me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

From Publishers Weekly (via Amazon): 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.

For me, Every Man Dies Alone had that special quality I find so little of in most other books I read, namely emotion. That’s not to say I never experience emotion while reading, but it’s very rare that I experience emotion so profoundly as in Every Man Dies Alone.

I felt the hate toward the Gestapo agents as they set about their tasks in the most ruthless ways imaginable. I felt the frustration of their suspects as they desperately tried to defend their innocence. I felt sad knowing all along that the cards weren’t doing a bit of good. I was crushed when the Quangels finally realized it but didn’t want to admit it. There’s a definite sense of hopelessness that permeates the entire story. There’s very little hope in the quite obvious outcome.

I’ve already bought Fallada’s other translated works released via Melville House who, oddly enough, reissued quite a few of Böll’s novels over the last few years. I can’t wait to get them and dig in.

Hans Fallada

December 28, 2012
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