Ian's Reviews > Every Man Dies Alone

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
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's review
Jul 30, 2012

really liked it
Read in May, 2012

An inside view of the banality of evil, Every Man Dies Alone tells the story of a series of ill-conceived acts of rebellion against the government by several German citizens during the years leading up to the end of World War II. Hans Fallada lived in the world that he skillfully evokes. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was himself subjected to significant pressure and blacklisting by the increasingly powerful Nazi regime, and at times was incarcerated in various asylums. As a result, Fallada seems effortlessly able to capture and depict a society rife with petty bureaucracy that can turn deadly at any moment, with informants casually whistling on every corner and crimes routinely unpunished so long as the victims are the "wrong" type of people. The casual manner in which Fallada describes life under a fascist regime is chilling, and is itself reason enough to read this book as a cautionary tale.

From the beginning, it is painfully obvious that the protagonists of this tale will not meet a happy end (the novel is based on actual occurrences, but is a fictionalized account). Fallada jumps between a number of different characters without any jarring transitions or noticeable gaps in continuity, and his writing is slightly reminiscent of Tolstoy in that respect. He offers a nice range of viewpoints, from rising Party faithful to opportunistic criminal elements to disillusioned citizens to active rebels. This well executed range of inside viewpoints makes the novel both compelling and frightening, as it drives home the fact that humanity itself covers a vastly divergent range of attitudes, from pure altruism to cold-blooded self-interest to the ghoulishly sadistic. Despite the novel's inevitable ending, Fallada successfully invites the reader to share in a series of increasingly minor "victories" that illustrate the psychological value of maintaining dignity even in times of madness and depravity.
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