Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada

coverHalfway through reading this book, I went and looked the wikipedia page of its author (an early 20th-century German). It is crazy! After having an accident that resulted (during recuperation) in his addiction to morphine, he murdered his friend, at age 17, in a botched suicide pact. Then he lost a string of jobs (and served a string of jail terms) because he was stealing from employers in order to support his drug habit. And, after he finally got sober, boom, the economy collapsed and the Nazis took power. He was sort of anti-Nazi, but in a fascinating, veiled way. His books could also be read as a denunciation of the prior regime, so the Nazis went through brief periods of holding him up as one of the good ones. However, they also intermittently persecuted him. And then the war ended and he died.

I first heard about him years ago, when someone was complaining about his book Every Many Dies Alone (which is about this couple that tries to distribute anti-Nazi literature in Germany during the war). They didn’t think it was bad, they were just complaining about the “Good German” phenomenon: the rash of books about how this or that German was, like, totally against the war and shit. Like, why aren’t there more books about the Bad Germans? Or at least the apathetic Germans? There were certainly many more of them.

It is a bit annoying, at times, how every German author (that we read) is someone who was persecuted by the Nazis. Some would argue that fascism cannot support good literature, but I have my doubts. I think there’s an element of self-selection here: there was a backlash against authors who were beloved by the fascists.

Anyway, despite his personal problems, Fallada has an immense amount of compassion. I really love this novel. It’s squarely in the naturalist mode: it’s about a young married couple struggling to make ends meet in the early 30s inflationary period in Germany. If I’d never read Grapes Of Wrath or The Jungle or House of Mirth or L’Assommoir, then Fallada’s book would probably be one of my favorites. As it is, I still love it a lot. The book has just the right amount of loneliness. In many books like this, the main characters feel totally alone. But in this one, they’re embedded in a community, and yet…their lives are still so precarious.

Also, the relationship between husband and wife is excellent. They’re both so clueless and callow, but they have such tremendous good will towards each other. It is heartbreaking. I’m not done with the book yet. I hope they can retain some of that decency, but I have a hunch that they will descend into the pit of infinite sadness…