Okay Ladies, I am writing about a novel that was originally introduced to me via a friend who knew I had a huge interest in the topic. Every Man Dies Alone is a classic story of rebellion during World War II. Originally published in 1947, Rudolf Ditzen –publishing under the pen name Hans Fallada- wrote the novel in a hectic 24 days. This story is one of triumph and rebellion in a country where many of these ambitions were subdued do the impossibility of speaking out against the socialist government.
This story takes place in 1941 in war torn Berlin, where a couple attempts to fight against a hierarchy. The couple has taken it upon themselves to create post cards speaking out against Hitler, the first of which states “Mother! The Fuhrer has murdered my son. Mother! The Fuhrer will murder your sons too; he will not stop till he has brought sorrow to every home in the world.”
Every Man Dies Alone details two sides of the story; the first of which is Inspector Escherich whose job it is to locate and condemn the ‘postcard phantom’ and the other is of Anna and Otto Quangel who attempt to stand up against the people that bind them. Fallada is not only able to incorporate the lives of the Quangel’s and Escherich, but also the lives of the individuals who surround them. Particularly Fallada focuses on the individuals in the Quangel’s building, ranging from a timid Jewish grandmother whose husband was arrested, a Judge, and a Nazi supporting family. While many other characters pass in and out of the dialogue it primarily rotates around these distinct individuals.
Mr. Quangel- originally a factory foreman-has kept to himself; however, when he learns that his only son has died in Hitler’s battle, Quangel transforms from his usual passive self to the progressive and aggressive individual who attempts to fight in every subtle way that he could. As his wife states, “No one could risk more than his life. Each according to his strength and abilities, but the main reason was, you fought back.” This is true as the couple quickly grab the attention of the inspector and their postcards begin to populate the city of Berlin.
“We live not for ourselves, but for others. What we make of ourselves we make not for ourselves, but for others…”
Fallada’s novel brings light to many issues of triumph that were circulating at this time. Yet we learn at the completion of the novel that Otto and Anna were real individuals- Otto and Elise Hampel-who conducted this campaign for over two years following the death of Elise’s brother. When they were arrested in 1942 the Hampels were executed for their ‘transgressions’. The novel was originally written in German and has been translated into to English for many other individuals, that at times it is obvious that there is some confusion with language. While the original dialogue is translated Fallada’s prose evokes a change in each of us. This is not a triumphant tale of survival it is an act of transgression or resistance it is a small campaign that made a difference and stopped the brutality at least for a little bit.
Fallada’s novel was truly amazing and heartbreaking. Every Man Dies Alone enraptures the reader in stories of love and rebellion. It in encompasses everything that we love from a summer beach read but includes historical information and so much more. I leave you with this thought, what would you do in this situation? You would like to think you would speak out but when you consider those who surrounded each citizen you question yourself. So I ask you again, What would you do?
Discussion Questions (adapted from Book Browse)
1. In what way does the apartment house at 55 Jablonski Strasse represent Berlin society as a whole?
2. When we first meet Otto and Anna Quangel we have the sense that their relationship is very static. Does their relationship change over the course of the novel?
3. Hans Fallada creates an atmosphere of fear, where all the characters are afraid of something anything. What is the fear that affects each character? What role does fear play in controlling and motivating Borkhausen? Persicke? Enno Kluge? The judge? Otto? Inspector Zott? Trudel?
4. Although Inspector Escherich is a Nazi, are we supposed to be sympethetic towards him? Does his character change? If so what brings about that change? Why do you think Escherich kills himself?
5. Much of the novel is about disjuncted families – The Quangels, Eva Kluge and her husband and sons, the Borkhausen’s and the Persickes. How does Fallada use the condition of the family to express the condition of the society?
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