Every Man Dies Alone – Hans Fallada
During World War II in Berlin, Germany, there lived a working-class couple, Elise and Otto Hampel, who found their own, quiet way of fighting the Hitler’s government. They would write postcards urging people to refuse to cooperate with the Nazis. Then, they would leave the postcards all over the city, hoping someone would read them and start to wonder. Unfortunately, the postcards were almost immediately brought to Gestapo and the couple were arrested after about two years.
The book is loosely based on the real events, but I thought I should mention this. It gives me kind of a comfort that there were people in Germany fighting the Nazis propaganda, even if in such a small way. Though, I must admit I initially chose the book because of the title – again. I just thought it was beautifully sad – if I may say so. I had no idea what it was about, and was quite surprised when I found this out. Not that the book was a disappointment, it was just different than what I expected.
I remember when I was a kid my grandma told me that the World War II was “happening everywhere” and I took it literally. I actually thought everyone was fighting ALL the time, and when you weren’t a soldier, you spent your time trying to get food and avoid bullets of all the people fighting all around you. It scared the shit out of me, and even when I grew up and knew that people still had jobs and some kind of regular lives during the war, I still was – and maybe still am in a way – fascinated with how the everyday life was like. This book gave me that, in way.
In Every Man Dies Alone the couple’s names were changed to Anna and Otto Quangel, but they were still working-class couple. They just lost their only son on the war and it prompted them to “do something,” though they were not sure what at the beginning. In the book Otto is a quiet, strict man who has his routine and who seldom speaks. He loves his wife very much, but he is never emotional and he usually just does what he is supposed to do. It doesn’t seem probable that he would be the one to protest in any way, which makes one of the reasons why the Gestapo had so many troubles finding them at first.
Hans Fallada wrote this in just four weeks. Yet, he manages to write with such care for details, and creates such a complicate story with a lot of threads. Every character, ranging from the Quangels to the Gestapo officers, is carefully described and all scenes seemed truly realistic. The book has a characteristic, slow pace, that at the beginning got on my nerves in a way, but I learnt to appreciate it after I got used to it. I read a lot of emotional books, and while this dealt with a lot of emotions, they were presented in a specific way, as if written by somebody very distant to the events he is describing. Despite the slow pace, the book is really engaging, especially after a few first chapters, and even though I knew how it was going to end, I couldn’t stop reading. Looking for some hope, maybe.
And cried buckets at the end.
It makes me extremely sad that all of their work and their death basically went to nothing; all of those who found the postcards were so scared that they didn’t even read till the end, but brought it straight to Gestapo. It also makes me wonder if there is any sense in rebelling. I mean, who cares? At the end of the day, nobody. Except for them. It gave them courage and a purpose to know that they died making the right choice, trying to change somebody in their own way.
Despite the whole book being rather depressing and telling about terrible times, there is a little hope, especially at the end, when one of the characters says that the worse it gets now, the sooner it will get better. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant at first, but I think it’s like with this saying “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Finally, it has to get better. Right?