Grim, powerful epic portrait of life in Germany under Nazi rule, published shortly after the author’s death in 1947 but never before available in English.
Fallada was a bestselling novelist before the rise of the Third Reich, but during World War II he was hounded by the Gestapo and psychologically brutalized by Joseph Goebbels, who unsuccessfully tried to force him to write an anti-Semitic book. Sinking into alcohol and drug addiction, he was a broken man by the end of his life, and his final novel is shot through with his despair. Written in a 24-day rush, it was inspired by the real-life case of a working-class husband and wife who conducted a covert three-year propaganda campaign against the Nazi regime. Fallada’s fictionalized version centers on Otto and Anna Quangel, who are driven to protest after learning that their only son has died fighting at the front. The protest is small and timid: Otto writes anti-Hitler messages on postcards that he distributes around Berlin, and the Quangels are never certain if they influence any hearts or minds. Nonetheless, they provoke the Gestapo. Fallada reveals a deep understanding of the agency’s chain of command, its grisly abuses of power and the culture of fear it cultivated among German citizens. His hefty novel includes a host of characters, from hard-drinking reprobates and factory workers to judges and, in a poignant early passage, an elderly Jewish woman in the Quangels’ apartment building who lives in a perpetual state of terror. Most of these people are archetypal to a fault: Otto Quangel rarely strays from a stance of stoic nobility, and the drunken, proud bloviations of Gestapo brass occasionally border on the absurd. The characters’ fates are clearly telegraphed, yet Fallada keeps readers engaged with passionate prose that rushes events along at a thriller-like pace. And there’s stark grandeur in the closing chapters, featuring a Nazi trial, an execution and death in prison.
A very welcome resurrection for a great writer crucified by history.