Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

hans fallada



Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin cropped up in one of Gregory Woods‘s threads and it’s enthralled me for the last three nights. Otto and Anna Quangle – an elderly working class couple – are driven by grief and conscience to small acts of rebellion. Each Sunday, they write out a postcard and put it in a public space where someone will pick it up. That act, small and impotent as it is, is treason, and punishable by death, which is where the whole novel inexorably leads to. I love the milieu. it’s so rare to see working class people, neighbourhoods and ways of life depicted in novels still. But here the working class rub shoulders with the underworld, farmers, the criminal justice system. The careless cruelty, the greed, the pompous injustice of it all, the quotidian nastiness: all depicted from the inside. The period is from the Fall of Paris to the Fall of Berlin and the author wrote it in a burst of 24 days just before he died in ’47. The corruption of the system, the acceptance of different degrees of hideousness everywhere, the dehumanisation of those showing any kind of difference or dissidence…and in the meantime Otto and Anna put out their postcards, assert a humanity with small acts. There are lots of people alone in this Berlin engaging in small, almost invisible acts of dissidence they only hear about when the land in jail. It’s a great novel because it depicts a whole world peopled by varied and vivid characters but it’s the narrative unfolding that rivets. It reads like a great detective novel even though one knows exactly where everything will end up. one is riveted by character and process, indeed the process is in itself a kind of hope, even as you know that Anna and Otto’s actions doom not only them but also many who they merely happened to be in contact with. No Hollywood movie depicted Nazis with the kind of ordinary, everyday, casual and almost funny brutality that we read of in this book.

José Arroyo


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