A Blog About Books and Their Semiotic Functions in the World
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Finally: "Jeder stirbt für sich allein" in English!
What about Hans Fallada?
Again: June 27, 2009--before I came upon my afternoon find of "The Anatomy of Melancholy," I had gone to a yard sale in the morning, just north of my home on the 5200 block of Dorchester. Oddly, and I say oddly with a fresh sense of curiosity, almost none of the dozen homes selling their wares were selling books! This is unheard of in Hyde Park. In fact, it was a travesty. But what I did notice (as I almost always do) was that one older woman, who was selling dresses and some household items, was sitting in her lawn chair on the corner, reading a book entitled "Every Man Dies Alone" (German: Jeder stirbt fur sich allein--I'm missing an umlaut, my apologies), written by Hans Fallada. Returning home later, I discovered these facts. The book at first glance on the woman's chair looked like a companion to the Wally Lamb style books that have infiltrated the American consciousness, but the name "Hans Fallada" struck me as too different to be some hamburger American novelist. So I went a huntin' for some information on this book and its author. And what I found was both profound and astonishing, in many ways.
First of all, Fallada is a pseudonym: the real Fallada was born Rudolf W.F. Ditzen (1894-1947), and turns out to have been one of Germany's most famous writers! I'm ashamed for not already knowing that, as I've had my share dipping into the Heinrich Boll's and Gunther Grass's of this world, among others. Somehow, I never found old Fallada. But there are other extraordinary aspects to this individual and his life and work. Supposedly this massive tome was written in just over three weeks (like Handel and his Messiah). This is an extraordinary event, especially since the book itself is rather lengthy (over 500 pages in translation). But the story too is extraordinary: described by Publishers Weekly as "inspired by the true story of Otto and Elsie Hampel, who scattered postcards advocating civil disobedience throughout war-time Nazi-controlled Berlin." This will certainly be a book on my reading list!
But for today, even though I am posting this on July 1st, the same day that I posted my blog on Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy,"I will leave you with a taste of critical appraisal from theNew Yorker's fine ink wells:
Fallada wrote this novel in twenty-four days in 1947, the last year of his life; he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and had just been released from a Nazi insane asylum. The story is based on that of an actual working-class Berlin couple who conducted a three-year resistance campaign against the Nazis, by leaving anonymous postcards at random locations around the city. The book has the suspense of a John le Carré novel, and offers a visceral, chilling portrait of the distrust that permeated everyday German life during the war. Especially interesting are the details that show how Nazi-run charities and labor organizations monitored and made public the degree to which individuals supported or eschewed their cause. The novel shows how acts that at the time might have seemed “ridiculously small,” “discreet,” and “out of the way” could have profound and lasting meaning.
Ah, the true stories in fiction: 'tis a beautiful thing. I think I'll be revisiting Fallada and his works and reporting back to you kindest of readers... . Thanks readers. And thanks Fallada.