Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The First Card is Written

I recently finished reading a book that received a mountain of praise last year, Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone. It tells the story of Otto and Anna Quangel, a common, quiet, hard-working German couple who, following the death of their son in battle, confront the Nazi Party by writing postcards with political slogans and leaving them in public spaces.

What was particularly dizzying about the book was the rampant deceit practiced by one neighbor upon another:
"The air was thick with betrayal. No one could trust anyone else, and in that dismal atmosphere the men seemed to grow ever duller, devolving into mechanical extensions of the machines they serviced."

(This reminded me of a piece that Xiaoda Xiao wrote for the Huffington Post in which he blamed the government for the everyday persecution and antagonism amongst the population in Mao's China.)

The subject matter and the knowledge that the Quangels are based upon a real couple executed by the Gestapo lend a heavy gravity to the work, and the most moving passages are between the Quangels behind closed doors:
"...whether their act was big or small, no one could risk more than his life. Each according to his strength and abilities, but the main thing was, you fought back."

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