Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Solo en Berlín (Every Man Dies Alone) by Hans Fallada

Format: Paperback

Pages: 575

Series: NA

Source: Own

Genres: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Maeva

Publication date: June 2011 (Originally published in 1947 as Jeder stirbt für sich allein)

First impression

Set on Germany on the early 1940s and based on a true story, the author tells the story of the Quangels, a middle aged couple who lose their only child to war. Both were part of the Nazi party as workers but with this shock coming to their lives makes them question the whole regime. It is how they start writing post cards with anti fascist messages, questioning the Fuhrer and his actions and dropping them in places with high traffic in the hopes that their questioning might expand. The book also tells the story of their neighbours: a member of the SS forces, a Jewish widow, a pathetic tattletale with too much greed and even their post lady, who is tired of her drunken husband.

The book was actually written during the war, first published in 1946, which gave it a lot of realistic tones both in the characters and in the events going on. Unfortunately, I believe there was a lot lost in translation, particularly in the dialogues which made it hard for me to fully enjoy the read. I could feel all the important messages and nuances, but they felt buried under the effect of translation.

Final thoughts

Several members of my family read this book and fairly enjoyed it. I was not one of them. The main characters where very well constructed both as individuals and as a couple. When the book was describing what they would do and their thoughts I would be engrossed and amazed at them...but then the dialogues would come and somehow they speech seemed forced or even fake. I feel the need to point out here that the version I was reading was a translation in Spanish from Spain (or Castilian if you prefer) so my brain couldn't overlook the expressions used and the sentence construction so different from my own. Sadly, this carried all through the book and I would find myself wanting to put the book down or even wanting to skip the dialogues.

I also felt, that while the secondary characters gave extra perspectives of the war itself, there were too many of them and while the author certainly tried to give a deeper view of all of them some of them felt (to me) like a half baked idea. You can argue that books as LOTR have tons of secondary characters, and off course you would be right, but they are treated as secondary characters all along, and hence if their story ends, it doesn't feel like someone just turned off a switch all of the sudden. With Fallada's secondary characters, the feeling was that they might actually become main characters so when their parts were over I was left with an unfulfilled feeling.

The other thing that made it hard for me to engage was the pacing of the book; the first ¾ of the book felt extremely slow, while I will admit that there was a lot of build up, but more than once I considered DNF because I could not get fully engaged. My family encouraged me to continue and it is true that when I arrived to the last part of the book, the rhythm certainly picked up but it still felt a little too late.

One thing that set this book apart from other war books I've read is the keen eye Fallada had to describe human's nature, not just in the extremes moments but everyday situations.

The book was put together by the author in 24 days, a bit before his dead at age 81. It is considered to one of the first anti-Nazi novel, and it is particular not only by the fact that it is based on real facts, but because it was written by a German author, right after the war. All of this is still remarkable. However I can't in all honestly say that the book gave me more than I was expected and to a point it was limit to what I thought it would be. I would recommend this book to people that enjoy war stories with a very realistic (and sad I have to add) feel.

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