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Alone in Berlin - Book of the Month

by Hans Fallada

Translation by Michael Hofmann.

This classic of twentieth century German literature, recently published in an excellent translation, tells the story of an ordinary couple whose quiet resistance to the Nazis in their home town of Berlin, costs them their lives.

Otto Quangel is a joiner and foreman in a furniture factory where he has worked for 30 years. Subsumed into the war effort, the factory has been turned over to the production of coffins in order to bury soldiers killed at the front. One day, news arrives that his son was one of those who had lost his life and this is the catalyst for Otto and his wife, Anna, to begin their propaganda campaign against the Third Reich. Although intelligent, neither is well-educated, and they hope that, by leaving postcards emblazoned with anti-Nazi messages around the city, they might encourage others to express their discontent and start a groundswell of popular revolt. However, Otto’s own courage and self-reliance lead him to under-estimate the power of the fear that the Gestapo has instilled.

ALONE IN BERLIN is a fascinating portrait of a cross-section of ordinary German people living in Berlin during World War II. There are low-lifes, petty criminals, informers, ruthless party members and drunks, but there are also the courageous people who, against the odds and at terrible risk, resist the regime in the ways that they can: the Quangels; the woman who keeps a pet shop and tries to save one victim from the police; and the old retired judge who offers sanctuary to a Jewish woman.

The narrative is gripping and, although Fallada is unsparing in his description of the Quangels’ inevitable and gruesome end, their integrity and defiance, coupled with their love and care for each other, make this powerful story ultimately uplifting.

Clare Chandler

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