Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

The book starts by following the life of a common man, Quangel. A master carpenter. Married with children. Then one day he gets a letter in the mail.

…she rips the letter into scraps and shreds and fragments and she shouts into his face: “What do you even want to read that filth for, those common lies they always write? That he died a hero’s death for Fuhrer and Fatherland? That he was an examplary soldier and comrade?

This changes everything. Something changes in this man. It changes in his wife, too. Once there were ’not political’ and just trying to live a quiet life but now, what do they have to live for? Their son is dead.

big or small, no one could risk more than his life. Each according to his strength and abilities, but the main thing was, you fought back

Quangel, starts to turn against Nazism, but what can he do? He eventually starts writing incendiary postcards denouncing the Fuhrer and Nazism. He drops them in buildings for people to pick them up. He is eventually caught by a gestapo inspector who tells Quangel he had no chance. He is “a gnat against an elephant”. The inspector doesn’t understand why he even resists.

“No, and you will never understand it, either. It doesn’t matter if one man fights or ten thousand; if the one man sees he has no option but to fight, then he will fight, whether he has others on his side or not. I had to fight, and given the chance I would do it again. Only I would do it very differently.”

Quangel is sent to prison. Eventually, he has a sham trial and is sentenced to death. He is shuffled between different cellmates. One of his cellmates is a doctor.

“But in life you need to be tough sometimes, Doctor!”

“No, you don’t. And a saying like that is justification for every form of brutality, Quangel!”

Quangel does not regret his actions at all and is stalwart to the end. Living a ‘just’ life, and doing the right thing is worth it.

Doctor: “…Nothing in this world is done in vain, and since we are fighting for justice against brutality, we are bound to prevail in the end.”

Quangel: “And what good will that do us, down in our graves?”

“Quangel, I ask you! Would you rather live for an unjust cause than die for a just one? There is no choice - not for you, nor for me either. It’s because we are as we are that we have to go this way.”

This was a simple book. It isn’t written in fancy prose. It is to the point and cuts to the point. It shows that everbody has choice. They can never take that away from you even if they take away your life. They can’t cut down your decency.

At the end of the book there is short biography of Hans Fallada, a pen name, and his inspiration for this book. He was inspired by the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel. These people were working class heroes who did their part in distributing 287 hand-written postcards denouncing Hitler, and encouraging people to refuse military service. It took them a few years to get caught. It’s quite an incredible true story! The book really does justice to this amazing story. I can’t believe I’ve only just discovered this novel.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #69 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

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