I wanted to post today about Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, much-recommended to and finally read by me. But damn. What a hell of a story. Next week I should be going to a Fallada-related event, so perhaps I will have more to say then, but for now, just two brief notes.
First, Fallada himself has a hell of a story, which I didn’t learn (avoided learning?) until after finishing the novel and beginning the afterword by Geoff Wilkes. The afterword starts out describing the life of one Rudolf Ditzen—Hans Fallada’s real name. In 1911, Ditzen participated in a duel with his friend Hanns Dietrich von Necker. The two were apparently trying to deal with homosexual feelings through a suicide pact carried out disguised as a duel. As Wilkes describes, “von Necker missed, but was fatally wounded by Ditzen, who then used his friend’s revolver to shoot himself in the chest. Miraculously, Ditzen survived, and he was charged with von Necker’s murder.” He got off as psychologically unfit and went on to become a possibly mad, drug-addicted author of several novels. So, to recap: he shot and killed his boyfriend, attempted to kill himself with his friend’s gun, and “miraculously” survived. I mean, it was good for us that he did, because Every Man Dies Alone is pretty amazing, but it seems like it might not have been so hot for him.
Second, something I didn’t realize until I began reading and became immersed in the everyday lives of several Berliners in 1940 is that, while of course we immediately denote Nazis as “totalitarian,” the domestic situation in Germany during the war is underrepresented in our cultural “stuff.” You read about the Holocaust, you read about the War—not to diminish those things, of course. Meanwhile, there is so much brilliant literature from the Eastern Bloc about the sheer absurdity of the levels of totalitarianism experienced there. With Every Man Dies Alone, you realize that under Hitler, normal Germans were living a bit like they would later under the Stasi. The similarities in everyday life and the brutality of the the state between this novel and, say, “The Lives of Others,” reminded me of something about the Reich I had forgotten, or that had faded in my mind.
The last hundred or so pages of the novel are very heavy. It attempts to end on a rather happier note, because “we don’t want to end this book with death, dedicated as it is to life, invincible life, life always triumphing over humiliation and tears, over misery and death.” But this final chapter where life triumphs—after the War, naturally, after the Nazis have fallen—takes place in Brandenburg. And it is hard not to think that in fact optimistic young Kuno may have had several decades more of oppression and brutality ahead.