A Struggle Against Inhumanity


FINALLY I have finished reading Alone in Berlin (1947, Hans Fallada) – I don’t know why it took me so long. It may partly be because the book itself is so intense that one needs to have a little break between each stretch. This somewhat overwhelming nature of the book is quite astonishing, given that the only other books really to have had that effect on me were those that were real-life accounts of experiences of the concentration camps, and the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Perhaps the novel had this effect on me because I knew that its plot is based on real events that occurred during World War Two; but really I think it is the utter skill of the writer. This book was written in only 24 days by a man who was, as we say, troubled, and who would not live to see its publication, devoured by his own various substance addictions. The novel builds slowly, bringing together the strands that knit together to form one complete story. Some of the characters only know each other by sight or reputation, but all their stories interconnect and are equally important as each other. As one quickly garners from reading the blurb, there is an intense feeling of real fear running through the centre of the book – even those supposedly in power are not safe. Everyone is subject to the irrational whims of their superior – either in rank or intelligence.

The slowness of the book can at moments seem a little frustrating, but once the end is reached and the whole is reflected upon, the slowness seems entirely appropriate and necessary. The events of the novel take place over a handful of years, throughout which almost every character is living in fear, waiting to be caught or for that moment when they will know they are free. The length and intensity of the book seems to signify the length and intensity of their suffering, whether they may be deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by the end of it. For each character the entire experience (of the plot) is a struggle and it is through this struggle that the raw elements of their humanity are presented to the reader from the deft hands of the writer.

Though not exactly easy, this is a brilliant, brilliant book that anyone interested the in human experience of the war should most definitely read. It is a side of the story that we have not all heard, but that most certainly needs to be heard. Primo Levi called it ‘the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis’ and it is easy to see why.


( Image: the Gestapo mugshots of Otto and Elise Hampel)

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  1. […] a review of it for a former (and frankly less good) incarnation of this blog, which can be read here. It is a brilliant, brilliant novel. It is based on the real-life story of Otto and Elise Hampel, a […]

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