It was a hard book to read and, after turning the last page, I felt as if I’d been dragged through a world of lies and deception, where decency and truth had been erased from people’s memories, replaced by suspicion and fear, doubts and a false sense of loyalty.
Love, truth, honesty, trust—these values had been subverted again and again by Nazi bullies who insisted that everyone see the world and understand their place in it according to a master plan.
And even though the master plan was nothing more than lies parading as truth, there was no escape from it—everyone was caught in the trap laid by Hitler and his thugs—and anyone trying to escape or stand up to the falsehood and illegitimacy found themselves persecuted, disgraced, shamed, and sent to camps or prison or sentenced to death for betraying the glorious Fatherland.
Fallada's portrait of society in Every Man Dies Alone brings the dystopian vision of Nazi Germany to life, a hellish society in which anyone who offers a different opinion than the majority, or voices opposition or protest, is arrested, tortured, and put to death, all under the guise of a just judicial system.
That there is one voice--the main character (and his wife, who helps him)--willing to stand up to the bullies who are in power, well, it's a kind of miracle. And that these two people survive with their dignity and courage intact (or, shall we say, unbroken) for nearly 500 pages is yet another miracle.
The book is based on the true story of a German couple who risked (and ultimately lost) their lives for trying to awaken other Germans to the atrocities of the Nazi regime. It’s an important book to read if you want to learn how the power of a single voice can change the world.
For more information about Fallada and his work, visit:
PS - Before tackling Every Man Dies Alone, I’d recommend reading Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s The Boy Who Dared, another book about German resistance to the Nazis which led me in a roundabout way to Fallada’s masterpiece.