The number of books I have to read over the next twelve months dictates that as soon as I’ve finished one, I almost immediately need to start a second. And so it was that having finished Dracula for one of the book clubs I belong to, I began Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin for the second.
Not disimilar to my feelings towards Dracula, I began Alone in Berlin knowing it wasn’t the type of book I would usually chose to read. That my Aunt – one of the most intelligent people I know – had recently read it, did nothing to quell my fears that, as far as literature goes, it might be even further out of my comfort zone that its predecessor.
However, being reassured by the brainchild behind the book club that its plot was a rollicking one, I began one of Hans Fallada’s best known novels in earnest. Published in 1947 under the German title Jeder stirbt für such allein – Every Man Dies Alone, or Alone in Berlin as it’s more commonly known, is based on the true story of an ordinary man’s determination to defy the tyranny of Nazi rule.
The novel opens with elderly couple, Otto and Anna Quangle, who learn of the death of their only son fighting in the German army. Rather than accepting his son’s death, Otto begins to resist the Fuhrer in a subtle yet profound manner by dropping postcards all over Berlin criticizing the Nazi regime.
What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse across Berlin between the Quangels and Gestapo inspector Escherich as he seeks to unveil the perpetrator of the defamatory postcards. Escerich’s incompetence as he tries to track down the culprit so openly denouncing Hitler makes for a gripping read as the hunt for Otto Quangel results in bribery, arrest and the untimely death of a number of the central characters.
A story that fuses betrayal and loyalty, deception and the need for truth, and both love and loss against the harrowing backdrop of Nazi-run Germany, Alone in Berlin is both harrowing and heartbreaking and a quite unforgettable read.