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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Review: Alone in Berlin

Author: Hans Fallada

Release date: This edition 2010, first published 1947
Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141189383


Alone in Berlin is a complex novel set in the Second World War. It is a tale of human reaction and perseverance in a time when the people of Berlin had little control over the events dominating their lives.

I have to begin by saying this is not a book I would ordinarily read. It was selected for the staff book group which is why I braved it. People read for all different reasons and that is something that I have learnt through the experience of being part of this group. I read to escape. I like going off into fantasy worlds and leaving the real one behind. I am all about the happy ending and I’m a hopeless romantic. Does Alone in Berlin fit within those reading preferences? No, it does not. So this was a challenge for me.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints. We’re not talking two or three here. We’re talking many, many different characters. Their lives are all intertwined in some way. They may live on the same street or apartments, work in the same factory, be married, be related, be investigating a crime but in some way or another they are connected. And I suppose, you could say that in times of war all people are connected by the turmoil, violence, fear and powerlessness that overshadows their lives.

There is no one main character but there are some significant characters who shape events in the lives of the others. Take Otto Quangel for instance. He is a foreman at a factory. He’s a loner and has no real connection to other people except for his wife. Until the death of his son, he is in support of Hitler and the Nazi party. But when his son’s death affects his relationship with his wife, he feels anger towards Hitler and begins a rather odd and ineffectual campaign against him. Otto’s actions affect his wife, his future daughter-in-law, the people of the factory, the people in the apartment building and so on. And yet, Otto’s actions do not have the effect he is hoping for.

At first I found following the many different characters really frustrating. But I really did like the author’s voice. It was a little sarcastic yet very direct, as if he was telling just you the story. I also felt irritated the characterisation of the characters in the SS and Gestapo. They were almost one-dimensional and caricatured in the beginning. I didn’t expect to like them but I did expect them to be multi-layered. I just don’t believe there are that many people who enjoy mutilating and torturing other human beings. But perhaps the author was suggesting that is what war does to people. Makes them inhuman and desensitized to violence? Food for thought.

I am pleased that I kept reading. I did get drawn into the characters’ stories. I wanted to know how it ended. Alone in Berlin definitely evoked strong emotions from me. At one point I felt physically sick and yet there were times when I smiled and even laughed. I expect there will be some interesting discussions at the book group. A thought-provoking and challenging read.

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo.


Pepca said...

Great review! This is just the kind of book I'd read, though I'd have to be in the mood. WW II are very difficult, emotional reads.

Waht you say about the SS and Gestapo characters being one-dimensional - I think you might be right - war does that to people. Also, I read speculations the tortures were not only brainwashed, but probably also drugged, hence the cruelty and lack of emotion.

I'll have to check this book out.

Nikki-ann said...

As you're glad you kept reading, I may pick this book up again when I have a chance. I started reading it last year or the year before, but just couldn't get into it.