|Written in 1947, translated to English in 2009|
Click here for New York Times Book Review
The recommendation for this book I found in The Week magazine.
The book titles included in the November 24 edition of the magazine were selected by author Louise Erdrich. She recommended six titles, one of them, Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada.
Her description and recommendation was all I needed to be interested and curious about this book.
"World entered: the kitchen of a humble couple in Nazi Germany. When their son dies, they do something small but extremely brave. At the bookstore I own, we keep this novel stocked because people who read it come back and need to talk about moral courage. What better subject these days? "
Moral courage, almost unheard in the world today.
Last week I proceeded to put the book on hold and picked it up on Sunday at the library branch near my house. I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up the book from the HOLD shelf, all 535 pages. I knew the subject matter in general, a family tragedy during Nazi Germany, the over arching theme: moral courage.
I imagined that the Mom and Dad took part is some type of resistance. When I checked on the book, I did confirm that the story was based on an actual case, the Gestapo file of Elise and Otto Hampel.
I will never stop being amazed by the work, the creation, the genius of authors, how all the characters, details, descriptions, structure, dialogue, geography, place, emotions, history, story, stories within stories, timing, pace, how all of this spills from their head and heart onto a page, onto 500+ pages and it all makes sense. This particular story, it's in order, the characters are well developed, the invitation to invest on behalf of the reader is there and I certainly accepted.
There is a particular time in the story, when Otto is awaiting his death sentence to be carried out, he is in a prison cell and visited by his public defense lawyer. They have a short and poignant conversation about decency and the price one pays to be decent versus the price one pays to be indecent and it's riveting. Simple words giving light and truth to the significance of moral courage ! ! !
It's a simple scene in the book, a simple conversation with such power, I will never forget it.
The author takes the reader up close to the ugliness of the SS and the Gestapo and the accompanying ugliness of "man" and how desperation becomes the bride of so much horror and pain and anguish. There is a description of decapitation in this book that is haunting. Both Elise and Otto Hampel were sentenced to death by this method.
Certainly it's not an easy book to read especially when you get to the part of the story where the couple is arrested, then their subsequent trial and then the carrying out of their sentences.
I was curious how the author would write about such horrific events and it's basically in black and white, you read, you imagine, you're right there with the characters, in the streets, on the train, in their humble kitchen, in the prison cells.
The book provides a personal and very real account of what it was like day to day, for people in Germany. People who joined the party and drank the Hitler Kool aid, people who joined the party and pretended and suffered in their pretense, and then people like Otto and Elise who did not join the party and risked and lost their lives. And there is so much more, the cancer of Nazi Germany was relentless.
I read this book because I like to read and I'm always curious about the story and the writing. With every book I want to honor the amazing gift of being invited to a story, a novel, a memoir, in such an intimate way by the author.
I as the reader bring Elena to the book and the story. It's a wonderful activity reading, and having the power and capacity to imagine and to wonder and be touched by words created on a piece of paper by a complete stranger.
Today I picked up three more books.