Alone in Berlin

Alone in Berlin

Book rating: 03 Paperback Penguin Classics

By (author) Hans Fallada, Translated by Michael Hofmann

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  • Publisher: PENGUIN CLASSICS
  • Format: Paperback | 608 pages
  • Dimensions: 127mm x 201mm x 28mm | 408g
  • Publication date: 1 May 2010
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 014118938X
  • ISBN 13: 9780141189383
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
  • Sales rank: 1,656

Product description

Its Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels' necks...

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Author information

Hans Fallada was one of the best-known German writers of the twentieth century. Born in 1893 in Greifswald as Rudolf Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen, he took his pen name from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. His most famous works include the novels Little Man, What Now? and The Drinker. Fallada died from an overdose of morphine on 5 February 1947 in Berlin. Michael Hofmann is the author of several books of poems and a book of criticism, Behind the Lines, and the translator of many modern and contemporary authors. Penguin publish his translations of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Other Stories and Irmgard Keun's Child of All Nations.

Customer reviews

By parrish lantern 11 Oct 2013 5

Alone in Berlin, takes place during the 2nd world war, with Germany firmly under the Nazi jackboot. Because of the constant fear of arrest by the Gestapo, with the threat of imprisonment, torture and death Berlin was a miasma of paranoia, fear and suspicion. In a world where a family member, neighbour or complete stranger can denounce you for a crime imagined or otherwise and even if you're not condemned to death, you'll find yourself classified an enemy of the state, ostracized and unable to find employment.

Otto and Anna Quangel, are a working class couple, who were not interest in politics, and although they weren't members of the National Socialist German Worker's Party, they had tacitly supported Hitler, even voted for him.

This was all to change - when one day a letter arrived, telling them their son had died a "hero's death for F�¼hrer and Fatherland". This shocks them out of their apathy and they start a campaign that explicitly questions Hitler and his regime, writing on postcards messages such as:

"Mother! The F�¼hrer has murdered my son. Mother! The F�¼hrer will murder your sons too, he will not stop till he has brought sorrow to every home in the world."

These cards were then left in the stairwells of apartment blocks, in locations all over Berlin, or dropped into post boxes. It wasn't long before they caught the attention of the Gestapo. This takes takes the form of inspector Escherich, who is mapping the position of every card with the aim of pinning down the "criminals". This being Nazi Germany, Escherich himself is constantly under pressure to get results or face the direst consequences: harried & abused by Obergruppenf�¼hrer Prall, the inspector will try any trick - dirty or otherwise to catch the postcard writers.

Although the postcards aren't really successful, because the population is so terrified that they hand them straight to the Gestapo, or destroy them, the cards offend the authorities and the case becomes serious and failure to solve it is not an option and it's just a matter of time before the Quangels become guests of the hellhole that is the Gestapo prison system and then it becomes a question of not will they survive, but how they die.

Alone in Berlin was originally called Every Man Dies Alone and was based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel a working class couple from Berlin, who came up with the idea of leaving postcards around their city denouncing Hitler and his regime. They got away with it for about two years, but were eventually discovered, denounced, arrested, tried and executed - beheaded in Berlin's Pl�¶tzensee Prison in April 1943. Hans Fallada was given the Hampel's Gestapo files by Johannes Becher, a writer friend of Fallada's, who was president of the cultural organization established by the Soviet military administration in the Soviet sector, with the aim of creating a new anti-fascist culture.

Sometimes you pick up a book that so engrosses you, that despite it's subject matter you cannot leave it alone. You know that there will be no traditional happy ending for Otto and Anna Quangel, that respect for humanity is not high on the Gestapo's list of priorities, that it is when and not if they are caught and then that they will face every form of torture from humiliation to being treated like a rag doll in the mouth of a rabid dog. None of this matters, or more accurately despite all of it, this book is beautiful, a quiet book of common decency, that reaches beyond the subject matter to reach a grandeur that, although of a tragic nature, still lights up bright enough to shine through the deepest of hellholes and to depict in letters large enough to be seen from the stars stating that despite all evidence to the contrary the human spirit and decency is never ever totally destroyed.

By Tracy Hudson 03 May 2011 4

This was a fantastic read - I so wanted something positive to happen and was cheering for the Quangels an unlikely revolutionary family. You realise that even the smallest things can make a difference and no matter who you are you can make your own stand.
Read my full www.ourbookclub.net.au review at http://www.ourbookclub.net.au/LiteratureAndFiction2011.php#alone-in-berlin

By Tessa Herrmann 07 Apr 2011 4

An incredible insight into what it was like in Nazi Germany for ordinary Germans. Written a few years after the end of WWII, it is one of the best novels I have read about German resistance to the Nazis. Highly recommended.

By Pauline 15 Feb 2011 1

Personally I found this book tedious. It just plods along in a very grey world with very grey characters who are invovled with each other is some way or other, but without any spark to the story. At one point one of the characters is killed off in a way that is incosistent with the plot, but then again it's not so much a plot, but a narrative (and a very grey, dull and boring one at that).
I couldn't wait to finish this book so as to get into something that really engaged me better.

Review quote

Fallada assembles a cast of vivid low-life characters, stoolies, thieves and whores -- James Buchan Guardian Visceral, chilling ... has the suspense of a Le Carre novel New Yorker A classic study of a paranoid society. Fallada's scope is extraordinary. Alone in Berlin is ... as morally powerful as anything I've ever read -- Charlotte Moore Telegraph First published in Germany in 1947 and evoking the horror of life in Germany in the Second World War. A rediscovered masterpiece that makes you want to seek out more works by this great chronicler of events in my own lifetime. Barry Humphries, Books of the Year, Sunday Telegraph The other fictional high point of 2009 was Alone in Berlin ... Hans Fallada's 1947 portrait of an ordinary German couple stung into a life of protest by the death of their soldier son is harrowing and masterly. -- David Robson Books of the Year, Sunday Telegraph [This novel] suggests that resistance to evil is rarely straightforward, mostly futile, and generally doomed. Yet to the novel's aching, unanswered question: 'Does it matter?' there is in this strange and compelling story to be found a reply in the affirmative. Primo Levi had it right: This is the great novel of German resistance. -- Richard Flanagan 'What Irene Nemirovsky's "Suite Francaise" did for wartime France after six decades in obscurity, Fallada does for wartime Berlin.' Roger Cohen, New York Times '[Alone in Berlin] has something of the horror of Conrad, the madness of Dostoyevsky and the chilling menace of Capote's "In Cold Blood"'. Roger Cohen, New York Times 'Fallada's great novel, beautifully translated by the poet Michael Hofmann, evokes the daily horror of life under the Third Reich, where the venom of Nazism seeped into the very pores of society, poisoning every aspect of existence. It is a story of resistance, sly humour and hope' -- Ben Macintyre The Times 'an extraordinary novel' Daily Express A marvellous book, almost a masterpiece. The tension he maintains despite a fogegone conclusion is miraculous. This is the truest, most vivid I-was-there novel of the epoch. Norman Lebrecht The stand-out book this year for me was Alone in Berlin (Penguin Classics GBP9.99) ... It's a page-turning moral thriller, based on fact, of a -working-class German -couple and their small-scale attempts to resist Nazi rule in Berlin. Bleak, chilling, utterly compelling and unforgettable. -- Pugh Books of the Year, Daily Mail Penguin's reissue of Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin, brilliantly translated by Michael Hofmann, makes available one of the great novels of the past century. An almost unbearably intense challenge to its readers. -- George Steiner Books of the Year, TLS What makes Alone in Berlin such a cracking read is that it pushes us into the midst of that grim reality and yet allows us to put it down - only at the very end - with a feeling of warm humanity. -- Peter Millar The Times Hans Fallada wrote Alone in Berlin between September and November 1946, in postwar East Germany. He told his family that he had written "a great novel". He would die a few months later. ... Fallada was correct: he had written a great book, in circumstances and a space of time which make the achievement almost miraculous. But it's the double miracle of translation which gives us Fallada's novel in English as Alone in Berlin. Michael Hoffman is a fine poet, whose acute ear and eloquent understanding of the transition-points between the two languages make the text as powerful as it is down-to-earth. -- Helen Dunmore Guardian