All That I Am (Hardback)
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Short Description for All That I Am An award-winning author delivers an affecting and beautifully evocative debut novel, set in 1930's Europe and based on a true story, about a group of young German exiles who risk their lives to awaken the world to the terrifying threat of Hitler and Nazi Germany.
- Published: 07 February 2012
- Format: Hardback 366 pages
- ISBN 13: 9780062077561 ISBN 10: 0062077562
- Sales rank: 23,441
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Reviews for All That I Am
- Top review
blurry line between truth and fiction
All That I Am tells the story of anti-Hitler activists who continued their fight overseas after they were forced to flee Germany in the early 1930s when Hitler came to power. While the central figures in the novel work to warn the world about Hitler's nefarious plans (a world which preferred to close a blind eye to what was happening in Germany), they are limited in their political activities by their refugee status and live in constant fear of discovery and reprisal.
The strength - and perhaps also the weakness - of Anna Funder's book is the fact that it is a historical fiction inspired by real people and events. That the characters really lived and the events recounted (betrayal, assasinations abroad by Gestapo spies...) really happened made the book a compelling read; but the blurry line between truth and fiction left me sometimes confused and dissatisfied. I imagine most of the dialogues were made up, but to what extent were the details of the relationships, the psyche and emotions of the characters real? When I felt the characters' fear, panic and paranoia, and felt outrage at the world community's refusal to act against Hitler, was I emphatizing with the real-life sufferings of the persecuted or reacting to the strength of Funder's prose? There is no question All That I Am made me examine my own moral values and I learned much that I hadn't known earlier, particularly about the lives of anti-Hitler refugees and the activities of the Gestapo outside Germany in the early days of his rule. But Funder's book left me hungry for truth rather than fiction.
As a literary work, I thought All That I Am fell short of Funder's powerful debut book Stasiland. It took me a while to get into All That I Am, which for me came together better in the second half. The story is told from two perspectives: that of Ruth Becker (Ruth Wesemann/Blatt in real life) as she nears death in 2001 in Australia and that of socialist playwright Ernst Toller in 1939 as he lives in exile in New York. The account of Toller's dictation of his memoirs and his recounting of the activities of his lover Dora Fabian, Ruth's cousin, gels well with the story about the exiles' lives some 5-6 years earlier. I found somewhat jarring the constant injections about Becker's daily life and medical condition as she fights memory loss in the last days of her life in 2001. But it was a clever tool to weave the (fictional?) present with the past. Among the trinkets found in her kitchen are mementos from her childhood and "a magnet with a Crime Stoppers number to call if she sees anyone she doesn't like the look of" (a reminder to speak out against evil?). Becker's memory of long ago events improves even as her short-term memory fades. Her neurologist tells her this sometimes happens to people who are in danger of losing their sight. "I had very good eyes once. Though it's another thing to say what I saw. In my eyes, it is entirely possible to watch something happen and not to see it at all," Becker says. It's an indictment against those who chose not to act, but also of her own character's failure to acknowledge until too late her husband turning into a Gestapo informant.
To always do the right thing: that was the strongest message I got from the book. The title is apt: we can be as much, or as little, as we can. It's a choice we all get to make, hopefully never in similar circumstances. by liberal sprinkles