Alone in Berlin: German Lit Month — Part II

My first post on Alone in Berlin, which I read for German Lit Month is here.

Spoilers ahead…

“People with a faith have an easier time of it nowadays, I’m sure. They have someone they can turn to with their worries. They think all this killing is for a reason.”

“Thanks!” said Quangel, suddenly vicious. “A reason! It’s all senseless! Because they believe in heaven, they don’t want to fix anything on earth. Always crawl and keep a low profile. Heaven will fix everything. God knows why it’s happening. On the Day of Judgement we’ll find out. No, thanks!”

6801335Otto Quangel has changed. Writing postcards has changed him. He is still laconic, private, but the postcards are filling him with indignation, restlessness, and questions which he can answer. In a rare conversation with his wife Anna, he dismisses the presence of God. He observes that if there was a God, how could He allow the genocide. Otto is meditating on that theme for us, the readers. He is trying to pin down an answer for the questions that we all ask whenever we read about the Holocaust — What was God doing?

Anna is torn between her husband and God. She could be more rebellious and more opinionated than Otto, but she wants to alleviate their pain by applying the balm called God, even if He is taking them to the guillotine. Later, her Faith mutates into her unwavering love for her husband; she draws strength from that well to survive the final wait. The solitude might be making her cold and suicidal, but her only light is Love. The light of all lights.

Now he learned that this back-and-forth of wooden figures could bring something like happiness, clarity in one’s mind, a deep and honest pleasure in an elegant move, the discovery that it mattered very little if you won or lost, but that the pleasure of losing a closely contested match was much greater than that of winning through a blunder on the part of his opponent.

The insanity of Nazi cells challenges Anna’s determination and courage, but it makes Otto more sane. He enjoys the company of his cellmate (that is out of his character), establishes a routine which includes fitness, and even learns to play Chess. He is so close to death. But he feels free and more alive than ever. He reflects that he never knew that life could be this exciting — the most beautiful irony that Hans Fallada nonchalantly offered in Alone in Berlin.

Hans Fallada is ruthless. He borrows Hitler’s axe to kill almost every good soul in the book. I wanted Judge Fromm to live even after Otto and Anna, but in a pair of brackets, Fallada says that Fromm’s house is bombed three years later. I died a little. But the last chapter is the much-needed resurrection. All the old souls might have lost their lives, but Fallada plants Hope in a young soul, who flees Berlin. That boy could have become an easy victim or one among the Nazis. However, Fallada drops him with an endearing couple; he grows up in a farm, he is educated, he knows love, and maybe, he is the symbol of the Germany that the Quangels and the Judge desired. 

PS: My edition features the postcards written by the real couple and some notes from the interrogations. I shuddered when I read the cards. They were prosaic, but what made them powerful was what the couple risked to write and drop them. Heartrending!

Alone in Berlin: German Lit Month – Part I

IMG_0106Many thanks to Lizzy and Caroline for hosting the German Lit Month.

I spent a couple of hours to choose my read and zeroed in on Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin (which is also known as Every Man Dies Alone). The book is translated by Michael Hoffman. For the writing sounds utterly beautiful, I want to believe that Hoffman has done a remarkable job. My friends, who have read the book in German, should be able to validate my opinion. For the nonce, I am basking in the book, in its pain, in its people, in their failures, and in their little triumphs.

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Alone in Berlin is about 568 pages long in English. I have finished reading 50% and I couldn’t continue without gushing about how it’s already moving me, questioning my beliefs, and restoring my faith. Hence, I intend to write two blogs about the book. The first part is here.

The war has begun; not the one between countries which is siphoning off peoples’s blood, but the one that the Quangels are waging against Hitler and the Nazis. It’s not an elaborate battle, not a loud protest, but a quiet, systematic one, which is still precarious. They write postcards and drop them in places frequented by all sorts of citizen. They tell Berlin in their own way that Hitler has murdered their only child (their son). They ask Germans to go against the system within their own limits — put sand in machines, do not contribute toward the Winter Relief Fund, raise your voice silently, and so long as the voices are raised, Hitler would know that that kind of people still exist with a modicum of justice in their hearts.

‘The first sentence of our first card will read: “Mother! The Führer has murdered my son.”’ Once again, she shivered. There was something so bleak, so gloomy, so determined in the words Otto had just spoken. At that instant she grasped that this very first sentence was Otto’s absolute and irrevocable declaration of war, and also what that meant: war between, on the one side, the two of them, poor, small, insignificant workers who could be extinguished for just a word or two, and on the other, the Führer, the Party, the whole apparatus in all its power and glory, with three-fourths or even four-fifths of the German people behind it. And the two of them in this little room in Jablonski Strasse!

I read the aforementioned passage many times. I suffer from the inability to name the feeling I experienced when I read it, but it’s the kind of feeling I get when a piece of artwork tears through my heart, illuminates my head, and leaves me exhausted because of exhilaration. There is immense amount of pain in this passage. Despite the couple’s trauma, their fight lifts my spirit. Their son’s death is almost killing their marriage, taking them far apart from each other, but the protest brings them closer as never before. They feel empowered. They understand each other’s love language. Above all, their lives are second to their fight.

Fallada’s Berlin is sprinkled with noble souls. They are the stars in his dark Berlin. They ask me to think about the gravity of my actions. They tell me that random act of kindness saves lives. In spite of the depressing forces, the world wouldn’t be what it is today if those people didn’t stand up for what was just.

Alone in Berlin has arrested me. It’s hard to go on with my life when I know this book is waiting for me, with its engrossing, soulful story. Sample these: A jewess is hidden by a retired German judge, in his deceased daughter’s bedroom. An innocent loafer is chased by the Gestapo, only to make him a scapegoat. A postwoman leaves the Party and the city because his son killed a child in Poland. A widow, whose husband was killed by the Nazis for being a communist, does all she can she to save a man by thwarting the Gestapo. They are all stealing my sleep, but I can’t complain all the same.

Berlin breathes fear into me. It’s hard to live there when my neighbours are unempathetic and are constantly waiting for a chance to prove that I am anti-national, when my colleagues can’t care when I don’t turn up for work, when I can’t mourn my dear ones. In that hostile environment, the Quangels are battered yet brave, exposed yet cautious, falling yet rising. As the Gestapo is driven insane by the Quangels’s audacity, I cheer for them from my bedroom; I mutter a silent prayer under my breath for their battle to go on. I hope Fallada would be kinder to be in the next half.

What are you reading for the German Lit Month?

PS: Thank you, AK, for presenting this book. I heart you. ❤