Invisible Ink: No 124 - Hans Fallada

 

His pen-name was created from two characters in Grimm's fairy tales, but his novels had little in common with the moralistic fantasies of mittel-Europe. Rudolf Ditzen was a magistrate's son, raised in Berlin and immersed in Dickens, Flaubert and Dostoevsky. He became one of the greatest German authors of the 20th century, but was not translated into English until 2009.

Never in good health (he was kicked in the face by a cart-horse at 16 and contracted typhoid at 17), medication led to drug problems and suicide attempts – the most notorious being a duel staged to mask a double suicide that resulted in him shooting his best friend dead. Found innocent of murder by reason of insanity, he entered a mental institution; this was the beginning of a string of calamities including morphine addiction, imprisonment for embezzlement, and repeated nervous collapse in the face of his country's escalating fascism.

What saved Fallada from being just another casualty in the German tragedy was his writing ability. Peasants, Bosses and Bombs established him as a literary talent, but Little Man, What Now? (1932) became a smashing success and was filmed in Hollywood. However, because the film was made by Jewish producers, Fallada fell under the scrutiny of the rising Nazi Party, who trumped up a charge of "anti-Nazi activities" and jailed him for a week. The book was removed from public libraries and persecution led to falling sales and another breakdown.

Fallada, a nationalist who loved his homeland, was branded an "undesirable author", and was banned from having his works translated abroad, so he found safety in writing children's stories. In 1937, his adult novel Wolf Among Wolves was approved by Joseph Goebbels, who saw it as an indictment of the Weimar Republic. Goebbels now suggested that Fallada should write an anti-Semitic novel, leading the author into a trap from which he could not escape. The book underwent many revisions and Fallada ended up in a Nazi insane asylum, where at least he had access to paper and pens. The Drinker was a roman-à-clef about his alcoholism, and although it criticised the Nazis, its publication date came as the regime started to collapse, saving him. Every Man Dies Alone and Lost In Berlin are his greatest late books. The question remains; was it better to stay and compromise, or flee (like Thomas Mann) and be true from a distance?

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