Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Guest Post: Jamie d'Ath of The Unsamaritans Book Group

Book: Alone in Berlin (Hans Fallada)

Venue: Big Geoffrey's

Story of resistance in wartime Berlin by workers Otto and Anna Quangel, stirred into action after their only son is killed in military service. Stricken by grief and filled with anger, they take it upon themselves to write and distribute postcards denouncing the Nazi regime. They remain at large for over two years, leading Inspector Escherich and the Gestapo on a merry goose chase. Along the way Fallada introduces us to a dizzying array of characters, representing a varied cross-section of life in Berlin. Whether they be a doctor, lawyer, gambler, shopkeeper, factory worker, postwoman or actor, Nazism has affected everyone deeply and themes of fear, suspicion, self-preservation and redemption run through the book.

The story is based on the true account of Otto and Elise Hampel and was written by Fallada in 24 days in 1947. On reading the epilogue it is clear many of the themes running through the book directly correlate to Fellada's own life.

We had a pretty good discussion. Jd'A felt the book was a good read, with good characterisation though lost its way through the middle of the narrative, with a sense of rushed prose and an unrealistic badly thought through weaving of the story. He felt the epilogue was an important addition to the story and helped explain certain elements of the book.

SB, (so wishing your surname was Spackman for this exercise), really enjoyed the book. She loved the rich characterisation and the very real sense of what it must have been like to live under such a torturous regime. For Frances this was a second time around read. She loved it the first time, though second time round whilst still enjoying it, felt it read a little sloppily. Agreed with SB though in terms of the characterisation. CC and Claire really enjoyed the story and raised the point about decency and the importance of morally doing the right thing. SF felt the characterisation was a little too black and white, in that the "bad guys" really were evil and the "good guys" just a little too squeeky clean. A number countered, including our esteemed host, big G, who sought to show the multi-layering of characterisation throughout the book.

The general consensus was Alone in Berlin was an entertaining and thought provoking read although one universal criticism was levelled at the translation and the possibility of the text losing a lot of its original colour. The title in German is Everyone Dies Alone, which makes a great deal more sense.

After the chin stroking, wine sniffing and big G's ratatouille munching, we got down to the serious business of celebrating the colourful characters that make up our delightful group. There were three prizes up for grabs: MVP, LR, TT. The lasses were a little perturbed with the schoolboy nature of the ceremony but got stuck in to award the following:

MVP - Frances
TT - Jd'A/JM

After some pretty dire speeches, ok well just mine, we moved onto the more important open vote on best book and best discussion. The former seemed to be between "The Consolations of Philosophy" and "Knowledge of Angels". The latter was picked up by, "We Need To Talk About Kevin". Worst book was universally agreed to be "The Alchemist" (or anything JM had chosen).
Next time round it is "Watching the English", so bring it on...

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