First published in German in 1931 and loosely based on the author's experience as a newspaper reporter, Fallada’s bleak political comedy is as relevant—and rich—as ever in Hofmann’s supremely natural translation.
These are desperate times for the citizens of the small German town of Altholm in the summer of 1929, and political and social tensions are running high. True to the title, the action starts small: A pair of bailiffs have been sent to repossess two oxen belonging to a farmer who, according to the government, owes back taxes. But the operation goes awry when the area farmers union bands together in protest, and Tredup, the hungry “advertising manager” for the local Chronicle, happens to snap some shots of the resistance on camera—pictures he might sell to the right buyer, for a price. It’s the story the papers have been waiting for, and when the farmers take their (supposedly sanctioned) demonstration into the city and the bumbling local police respond with excessive violence, the town’s unraveling is set in motion. Which is not to say the ensuing crisis is solely the corrupt government’s fault or the incompetent police’s fault, exactly, or even the opportunistic journalists’ fault: In Fallada’s hands, everyone is simultaneously sympathetic and amoral, united by an unlikely combination of total despair and joviality. Fallada’s (Every Man Dies Alone, 1947, etc.) world may be grim, but it's not cold. And if there are a few too many characters here—a guide at the front is essential for keeping up with them all—the effort is worth it: As a tragicomedy of human failings, this novel is arrestingly authentic.
A meticulously detailed chronicle of provincial politicking and small-town pettiness with haunting contemporary resonance.