Every Man Dies Alone

Every Man Dies Alone
By Hans Fallada
(Melville House)

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One of the greatest ethical dilemmas we’re all glad we don’t have to face is that of living in a fascist state who’s basic credo is an abhorrence of human rights.  Would you or I be strong enough to buck the system and oppose, openly or otherwise, a repressive regime?

This is the underlying question of Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, published for the first time in English this year by Melville House. The novel is a stunning literary look at the life of the average German during Hitler’s Third Reich, and the force of personality it took to oppose an unjust system.

Every Man Dies Alone focuses around the courageous yet futile postcard-writing campaign of Otto and Anna Quangel, a fictional couple based on the true historical case of Otto and Elise Hampel. The elderly couple, having lost their only son to the war, turn against the Nazi party and hope to inform the public of its atrocious behavior.

The novel also follows the stories of other Germans tangentially related to the Quangels, their would-be daughter-in-law, the Gestapo inspector who falls from grace when he cannot bring the Quangels to speedy “justice,” and a street rat who escapes his abusive father to the countryside to build a new life as the son of a retired post worker and a teacher.

Fallada wrote the book in just 24 days following World War II, and having lived through Nazi oppression is remarkably able to portray what life was actually like in Nazi Germany. The courage and conviction of Otto and Anna Quangel really inspire you to wonder whether you would be able to commit to a path that is sure to lead to death in order to preserve your own conscious and convictions.

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