It's understandable enough that much of the literature surrounding the Second World War centers on resistance to the existing regimes, and that most of these works devote their time to the small success of well-organized movements, partisan fighters, or good people helping to hide Jews or other undesirables from their persecutors. In Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada draws attention to less successful efforts at resistance and paints a picture of wartime
in many more shades of gray than the stark black and white preferred by many of
the era's chroniclers. Though the thrust of the main plot is occasionally lost
as the narrative gets sidetracked, the novel offers a reasonably comprehensive
view of the lives of a few normal and ordinary Germans who participated in
small acts of resistance to the mighty Reich. Fallada's willingness to expose
the near futility of his heroes' actions does not ultimately betray his
underlying faith in human decency, but instead contributes to the book's
thorough realism. Readers get the sense that Alone in Berlin reflects, as the book's afterword puts it,
"the banality of good."
The range of characters explored in the book grounds Fallada's examination of
Berlin in wartime, contributing to the book's
sense of comprehensiveness despite the centrality of one couple's story.
Fallada is also willing to look at the past from different points of view, and
while the moral timbre of the book is never in doubt, significant attention is
given to less savory Party and Gestapo members as well. Shifting tenses can be
a bit distracting, but a preference for the present tense lends the story a
sense of urgency and contributes significantly to its superb sense of setting.
Though the plot lags at times throughout the middle of the book, an extremely
well-executed (and lengthy) denouement transforms the book from a good novel
into a brilliant one. It is here that Fallada unleashes a biting satirical
tone, as well as displaying a deep sense of empathy and compassion. A well-placed
interlude provides a break from the heaviest moments and the book's final
sections most fully explore its central themes, presenting a thoughtful and
relevant commentary on the efficacy of even the smallest acts of human decency.
Alone in Berlin has small slips, but
recovers in fine fashion to present a realistic and thorough view of Berlin
during the Second World War as well as a moving commentary on human action,
inaction, and, above all, decency in the face of overwhelming evil and