Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Alone in Berlin was written in 1947 and is loosely based on the true story of a married couple who placed postcards containing anti-Nazi messages all around the city of Berlin during the war. Unfortunately the main reason we now know the identity of this couple is because they were caught by the Nazis and hanged.

This book was not translated into English until 2009 which is surprising given the anti-Nazi message and the fact that books on this topic tend to do very well.

The novel contains a wide range of characters from the low-life criminal Emil, the Pro-Nazi Persicke family, the brave Trudel Baumann to the fiancĂ©e of the Quangel's dead son. The author here gives a wide-range of responses to the regime, from total loyalty through to heroic resistance and to the people that will do anything to look the other way and survive it. The paranoia hanging over Berlin and its residents is well portrayed and as a reader I did feel nervous for the characters when they dared, in their own way, to defy the authorities. I’ve read many books set during this period but this one did offer a different perspective.

However it did go very much into thriller territory towards the end. The police investigation and how they eventually caught the couple was very interesting but the thriller genre isn’t something I particularly enjoy. I wouldn’t let this put you off, it’s only my personal preference but I would have preferred it if the novel stuck to the more physiological and historical aspects.

The notes contained in the back of the book gives information on the real life couple the novel was based on. This section includes photographs, police reports and photos of the postcards that were dropped around Berlin.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess


  1. A very fine book which I enjoyed greatly. It clearly illustrates the moral choices that ordinary people were faced with in those years. Glad you thought it worth writing about

  2. I read this under the title Each Man Dies Alone several years back. I wonder if you have a new translation. It was one of my favorite reads that year. I thought it offered a new perspective on what life was like in Nazi Germany, at least one I had not read before.

  3. This sounds like a great book, especially since most novels were written from American or British perspectives. It's sometimes ignored that there were a lot of Germans who didn't agree with Hitler. Must check this one out soon.

  4. Not read this although do have it on my shelf, I did enjoy his A Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism. For CB James I remember reading that in America it was/is called Every man dies Alone whereas in the UK it's Alone in Berlin.

  5. Tom - thats it, its just a shame that most of the postcards were handed in. I don't know if it was through loyalty or fear that ppl did that.

    C.B. James - I didnt realise it was published under a different title in America - why the heck do that? I think the fear was the books main strength, the atmosphere was just right.

    Darlyn - its certainly worth checking out.

    Parrish Lantern - thankyou for pointing out the title difference, I had no idea it was under a different title in America.

  6. I read this earlier in the year and loved it. It was fascinating to see things from such a different perspective and it's just a shame the postcard campaign wasn't more successful.

  7. My husband bought me this book a few months ago, and I flipped through it and saw the historical details in the back. I can't wait to read it, but I didn't know it was more of a thriller toward the end. Will link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  8. I read this one a few months ago. It took me a while to get into, but I thought it picked up halfway through and I started to enjoy it more.

    I had no idea it was based on a true story until I picked it up, and somehow that made it more interesting!

  9. This English translation is newly prepared by Michael Hofmann and is a joy to read, capturing in highly idiomatic (contemporary) language Fallada's deadpan delivery of events, whether they be of great brutality or simpering banality. Above all, it comes across as fresh and vibrant, accentuating Fallada's wicked black humour perfectly.

    Highly recommended.

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