March 23, 2009

The story behind “one of the most extraordinarily ambitious literary resurrections”


Hans Fallada

Hans Fallada

Previously hailed by its east coast counterpart as a “signal literary event,” the Los Angeles Times reports the publication of Every Man Dies Alone is also “one of the most extraordinarily ambitious literary resurrections in recent memory.” As Matt Shaer details in the report, the objective is to “Haul back from the grave the work of Rudolf Ditzen, a titan of German humanism and the author of a novel, Every Man Dies Alone, once heralded by Primo Levi as ‘the greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis.'”

Ditzen — better known by his pen name, Hans Fallada — “was the author of an astonishingly dynamic canon of writing,” including several books that were bestsellers in the US and turned into Hollywood movies. But Fallada’s career began to recede as the Nazis came to power and pressured him to write anti-Semitic novels. His drinking and drug problems exacerbated until he found himself incarcerated in a Nazi insane asylum writing novels in code, and he died soon after the war.

But not before writing his masterpiece, says Shaer, who interviews Fallada’s son Ulrich Ditzen, and publisher Dennis Johnson of Melville House, about the search for Fallada inspired when Johnson read that book. As Shaer explains, “Every Man, more than 500 pages in length, was finished in four feverish weeks in 1946 … He poured everything into “Every Man”: his addictions, his guilt and his sadness. What emerges is on its face the thrilling tale of a grass-roots, anti-Nazi propaganda campaign, spearheaded by a pair of working-class Berliners.” In other words, a book about writing under the Nazis.

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.