Friday, June 10, 2011

book review: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

"Quangel stood up. 'There,' he laughed. 'You know perfectly well that the man behind bars is the decent one, and you on the outside are a scoundrel, that the criminal is free, and the decent man is sentenced to death.'"

What hits you like a slap in the face is the date this book was written because it is something you never expected to discover that anti-Hitler feeling could have been voiced at the height of the madman's regime.

But here it is in a story that has a great deal to say not just about the value of resistance, even if it appears on many levels to be futile, but about why a society that brings the scum to the surface is such a horrible one to live in.

At the heart of the story are a husband and wife, the Quangel's, who find that their son has been killed in action. Otto, up to now a miserly and introverted factory foreman decides that he has to mark the loss in some way.

He begins a campaign writing postcards which he drops across Berlin criticising Hitler and his rule of Germany. The cards get noticed by the Gestapo and just that alone sends several people into a fury.

As the years go on and the postcards keep dropping the noose perhaps tightens around Otto's neck but so in a way does it for the regime.

A cast of some of the most disturbing and horrible low life characters litter the book and illustrate how the Nazi regime rewarded thugs and allowed them to terorise people in the name of the state.

But where Fallada is at his best is when he punctures the fragile world of the gestapo. Their arrogance is matched with stupidity and now and again the brain cells connect and they realise that their approach stinks and the law they talk of defending is a sham.

but for the most part you find yourself rooting for an odd quiet man who shows a great deal of bravery. he might not be the perfectly rounded character but when it comes to describing someone to stand up against Hitler's regime it is perhaps the ordinariness of Otto that really lingers in the memory.

Some people were brave enough to counter the propaganda and some writers were capable of writing about it and Fallada does that here admirably.