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Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

 

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

 

Otto is the kind of guy you wouldn’t look at twice at in the street. He’s an ordinary German living in a grotty apartment block in Berlin during the war desperately trying to get by, to keep out of trouble, and away from the clutches of the dreaded Gestapo.

   But when his only son is killed on the Eastern Front Otto decides to do something about it. He thinks it would be a good idea, a courageous act even, to fight back, to make his opposition clear to the evil regime.

   Of course he cannot do this openly, he has to think of more subtle ways, and the best he can come up with is to write anti government, anti Hitler postcards, and scatter them around the apartment blocks across the city.

   It’s not much of a campaign, but it’s a start, he reasons. Other people will read them, pass them on, join in, write some of their own, or so he hopes. It’s also enough to have him executed should he be discovered.

  When his wife discovers his little plan she astonishes Otto by agreeing wholeheartedly with it, and the two of them set about stepping up their anti government rhetoric.

   Of course his cards are soon noticed and are rapidly handed in to Gestapo headquarters by zealots, party members, and “patriots” who can’t get rid of the filthy incriminating things quickly enough.

   Inspector Escherich is now on the case, and the inspector is under a great deal of pressure himself to solve the annoying riddle of the postcards. It becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse between the policeman and Otto, and all the while one can see that it is only a matter of time. Tick tock.

   What makes this book so powerful is that it is based on a true case, that of Otto and Elise Hampel, who carried precisely the same programme, knowing full well where it could lead them.

   In parts this book is difficult to read. Can human beings really be so vile and horrific towards other human beings? Apparently they can. History has shown they can right down the ages so why should they be any different now? And why should we be surprised?

   Alone in Berlin is a wonderful book that will have you spellbound until the very end.

   It’s not a jolly happy tale, but it is one that will live long in the memory, for months, nay years, after the last page is consumed, and the reason for that is that the reader is by then fully aware that these events are not fiction at all, but reality.

   It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

   It’s an uncomfortable book.

   But undeniably a masterpiece of storytelling.

   I loved it.

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