Monday, July 20, 2009

Every Man Dies Alone

I always thought that there ought to be a novel like "Every Man Dies Alone"- one that really conveys the permeating fear of living in Berlin under Hitler. I'd had that thought for years, and I've finally found it (link to Times review above). In reading about the author (Hans Fallada is a pseudonym for Rudolf Ditzen, and if you remember your Grimm Brothers well, you'll know the source), I don't think I'd want to ask him over for dinner. But the novel is really extraordinary, and maybe it couldn't have been written by the kind of man one might want at one's dinner table.
The only thing I can think about to compare it to is this: Peter Carey writes about anxiety in "Oscar and Lucinda" better than any fiction writer alive. Fallada is dead, but that's as well as he's able to pin down the many faces of fear. And luckily he is served very well by the redoubtable translator Michael Hofmann. Hofmann's translation of "The Radetsky March" a few years ago made me think I'd read a different novel from the old translation. Hofmann does not make false steps, he isn't fussy; in short, you never feel like you're reading a translation.
The larger photo is Hofmann, the smaller is Fallada.
My biggest problem at the moment is who to give the book to- my brother, or my former roommate. They'll both love it.

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