My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fallada’s book begins when the Nazis are at the height of their power: France has surrendered, and the English expeditionary army has been thrown into the sea. The worst of German society is now ascendant. In the Quangel’s apartment block they take the form of the Persickes,a working-class family headed by a drunk tavern keeper, have through their membership in the party been elevated to positions, especially their poisonous son Baldur who is tipped for great things in the Hitler Youth. The portrait Fallada paints of a society utterly corrupted by violence and betrayal is as horrifying as it is compelling.
We want the good guys to win. Even more than true love or great adventure, the idea of good triumphing over evil is part of the wish fulfilment of literature. The problem is that this relentless parade of unusual stories can lead you to think that good winning is the rule, not the exception. In Fallada’s Berlin, resistance against the Nazis feels not just doomed, but quixotic.
Yet the novel is almost as redemptive as it is harrowing (and that “almost” is one of its most interesting parts.) It is ultimately about the cost of preserving your dignity in the face of overwhelming evil, and the Quangel’s story is more powerful than a hundred pat tales of heroes overcoming obstacles we already know will fall.
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