Alone in Berlin
Paperback : 28 Jan 2010
Read an extract from: Alone in Berlin
Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin begins in Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels' necks …
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Walking up the stairs of an old apartment building. A postcard is on the stairs. It reads, in clumsy hand-written capitals: “MOTHER! THE FÜHRER WILL MURDER YOUR SONS TOO, HE WILL NOT STOP TILL HE HAS BROUGHT SORROW TO EVERY HOME IN THE WORLD.” Your blood runs cold. You fear for your life. What is the point of this postcard? You know it all anyway. Who has seen you? You put it back and hope never to hear of it again.
Hans Fallada strikingly portrays this harrowing environment with its fearful, sometimes vicious paranoia; a place where ‘half the population is set on locking up the other half’. Within this state, the looming oppression is also of a kind which can be unseen. Otto Quangel describes danger as ‘somewhere else but I can’t think where’ and goes on to say: ‘We’ll wake up one day and know it was always there, but we never saw it. And then it’ll be too late.’
Fear is the primary instinct pulsating throughout the book. Fallada writes in an honest, clear and gripping manner, unfolding a chase through horror within a grim, often visceral atmosphere. It is the afterword which jolts you into recognition of the fact that this story is not far from the truth. Alone in Berlin was written in 1946 just after Nazi defeat. Fallada was given the file of a working class couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, whose story became the basis of Quangel’s actions in the book.
However, this book is not completely despairing. If Alone in Berlin stands by a principle, it is to honour your own moral values. In an oppressive state where protest is deemed absolutely inexcusable, any seemingly ‘small’ defiant act is colossal in comparison to the rules that ‘the regime’ has put in place. The lives of these few characters captured so vividly in Alone in Berlin help to highlight and commemorate all those who protested and died from daring to resist the Nazi regime. The testimony of this book provides a painful but positive reminder that their efforts were not in vain. Hopefully the message of this book can also be used to open eyes and raise awareness about the continuing atrocities and oppression of tyrannical regimes across the modern world.
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Size : 129 x 198mm
Pages : 608
Published : 28 Jan 2010
Publisher : Penguin Classics
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Alone in Berlin