Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada

I found this book in my parents' basement--as you might have imagined I grew up in a house where there were, and still are, books at every turn, quite a few of which are more than a hundred years old (my reading habits are genetically encoded over many generations). Anyway I decided to give it a go since Fallada has been put back into print recently. The novel was first published in the US in 1933 (it's German) and weirdly this copy has a book plate from the Public Library of Mexico City, Special Tourists Rates, 10 cents a day ... this could be quite a fine if they come after me (2011 - 1933 x 365 x .10 = 2487!). Anyway one thing that struck me about this German novel from the 1930s is how few mentions of the Nazi's are in it ... oh, they're in there, but they are definitely just a bit of colored border surrounding the central plot. Now if a 21st century writer were to write a novel about 1930s Germany, I suspect they might be inclined to talk quite a lot about Nazis and the coming storm. Because it's hard for writers of historical fiction not to forecast the future... after all, they know it already. But it's important not to. One of the keys to historical fiction it seems to me is to hide an awful lot of what you know...rather to imagine what it was like to not know.

The novel by the way is really resonant for today's times as it's about a young couple who get themselves deeper and deeper into debt in a one thing leads to another fashion. And while you can see their trouble's coming (why oh why did he buy that dressing table) you feel sorry for them (I know exactly why he brought that dressing table--as a failed last stand against further humiliation) and while you know that things are going to get worse you wonder just how... As I was reading the novel I kept describing it as funny though now that I look back, the dominant tone is unquestionably sad. But there is a comic sensibility to some key scenes and one or two characters, and those are a pretty vital contrast to the depression.

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