Hold on for dear life should you pick up this historical novel, an international bestseller that was released in America in 2009.

Hitler’s Berlin, rife with sadism, snitches, crippling restrictions, and brutality, mirrors the evil that terrorized the populace. Into this world the troubled German author Hans Fallada (1911-1947) recreates the true story of Otto and Eloise Hampel, a middle-aged hardscrabble couple, aggrieved by the death of Eloise’s brother during the invasion of France. Their fury fuels a two-year stint of dropping hundreds of postcards, filled with civil disobedience, in Berlin’s public places. However, instead of rousing their finders to take subversive action on their own, they hand over the cards to the police, who then send them on to the Gestapo. A heated search for the perpetrators follows.

What makes this story gripping, however, is Hans Fallada’s witness to Nazi atrocities. A best-selling author before the establishment of the Third Reich, he chose to remain in Berlin and pick up work from the Party to support his wife and children, rather than immigrate to London. However, literary restrictions placed upon his creativity eventually plunged him into alcoholism and drugs, for which he was interred in a Nazi insane asylum in Alt-Strelitz.

After Fallada’s release in 1945, a sick and broken man, Johannes R. Becher, in the employ of the Soviets, gave him the Gestapo file on the Hampels and urged him to write their story. However, hospitalizations delayed this project, only begun the following year. Within twenty-four days, Fallada produced the first draft. He died before its publication in 1947.

In 2009, Melville House Publishing picked up Michael Hoffman’s English translation of Every Man Dies Alone and released it to wild acclaim.

Unfortunately, many little people are still caught up in totalitarian regimes around the world. Their stories speak to those willing to listen.

 

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