All That I Am: A Novel Hardcover – Jan 30 2012
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Anna Funder proved herself a first-rate reporter with Stasiland - now she appears as a compelling novelist in a dark story of German emigres in the 1930s, struggling to warn the indifferent English against the Nazis -- Claire Tomalin The subtlety of Anna Funder's novel is in the elegance of her precise prose, and in her painstaking portrait of an ordinary woman swept up in extraordinary events...The result is a strong and impressively humane novel -- Ruth Scurr TLS A superb novel that transcends its setting...This book is a wonder. Do, please, read it The Spectator History, like hope, is not something to be solved, but to be carried. Anna Funder has written an essential novel about how we carry the bricks of history on our backs, and how we continually build new homes from the material of the past. All That I Am is an intimate exploration of human connection and our responsibility to one another. Funder breathes life into Kundera's apercu that the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting Colum McCann A seamless and powerful tale...the book is far more than "faction"; Funder has successfully transformed the material into a narrative of individual endeavour and survival, that examines universal human themes...Dora and Ruth, especially, convey a sense of truthfulness and decency that transcends their time and should inspire us, even now, to expose injustice and tyranny -- Rachel Hore Independent on Sunday The strengths of Funder's writing are emotional and imaginative.In what she has to say about love, loss and betrayal there is profound truth The Times --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
From the Back Cover
All That I Am is a masterful and exhilarating exploration of bravery and betrayal, of the risks and sacrifices some people make for their beliefs, and of heroism hidden in the most unexpected places.
When eighteen-year-old Ruth Becker visits her cousin Dora in Munich in 1923, she meets the love of her life, the dashing young journalist Hans Wesemann, and eagerly joins in the heady activities of the militant political Left in Germany. Ten years later, Ruth and Hans are married and living in Weimar Berlin when Hitler is elected chancellor of Germany. Together with Dora and her lover, Ernst Toller, the celebrated poet and self-doubting revolutionary, the four become hunted outlaws overnight and are forced to flee to London. Inspired by the fearless Dora to breathtaking acts of courage, the friends risk betrayal and deceit as they dedicate themselves to a dangerous mission: to inform the British government of the very real Nazi threat to which it remains willfully blind. All That I Am is the heartbreaking story of these extraordinary people, who discover that Hitler’s reach extends much further than they had thought.
Gripping, compassionate, and inspiring, this remarkable debut novel reveals an uncommon depth of humanity and wisdom. Anna Funder has given us a searing and intimate portrait of courage and its price, of desire and ambition, and of the devastating consequences when they are thwarted.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
`I am a vessel of memory in a world of forgetting.'
Ruth Becker and Ernst Toller are the narrators in Ms Funder's novel. Ernst Toller, a playwright, is looking back at events from his exile in New York just after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Ruth Becker moves between her present life in Sydney and events in the years between World War I and II.
This novel revolves around the events in the lives of five people: Ernst Toller, Ruth Becker, her cousin Dora Fabian, Ruth's husband Hans Wesemann, and the journalist Berthold Jacob. When Ernst Toller is imprisoned, in the 1920s, for his role in Munich's brief revolution, the others campaign for his release. Toller is released in 1925, and he and Dora become lovers. While in prison, Toller has written four plays about the human price of war: he is both a leading figure in German theatre and a leading European anti-fascist. Toller was in Switzerland during the week when Hitler became chancellor in 1933.
For Ruth, Dora, Berthold and Hans, the decision to leave Germany is made immediately after the infamous burning of the Reichstag. Dora bravely hides Ernst's papers, and joins him in Switzerland, before later moving to London. Hans and Ruth leave for London, while Berthhold moves to Strasbourg.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Not romantic, but there are affairs; not a pretty 20th century picture of war, Nazi politics, and this coterie's struggle to warn Europe. Expect to FEEL loss, sacrifice, struggle; expect to judge; expect an inglorious sweetless end. It's not light reading, not cozy heart-warming. It's bitter struggle, life lived on the edge, loss, exile, and honest failures enough to show it is more nonfiction than fiction.
It's a much preferred novel structure for this historical material over the textbook-history nonfiction alternative. See the dark side of nationality/religious politics -sometimes as disturbing as today's front page news.
Bottom line: It takes a few pages to get used to the skipping from one era to another, one location and then back, and the personalities, but it's worth the preliminary perplexity to get into this riveting read. The book needs a cosmopolitan reader--one keen on other nationalities and a mingler of diverse sects, faiths, and personalities. They will enjoy & relate. A finale is full of intrigue, voracious emotion, and a whole domino-series of surprise conclusions.
Thanks Anna Funder, expect another award.
The novel opens-"When Hitler came to power I was in the bath." This is the memory of Dr Ruth Becker Wesemann, a very old woman in Sydney, Australia, diagnosed with plaguing of the brain which causes not only her short-term memory loss but also more vivid long-term recollections. "I feel sane enough-young enough-to experience loss as loss. Then again, nothing and no one has been able to kill me yet."
It is the year 2001 and Ruth unexpectedly receives a package from Columbia University in New York. It contains documents from 1939 belonging to a Mr Ernst Toller as well as a first edition of Mr Toller's autobiography, I WAS A GERMAN, with a handwritten note 'For Ruth Wesermann.' The book will enable Ruth to go back in time, back to the early 1930's and her beloved homeland of Germany. As Ruth is stirred by the contents of Toller's book, she reminds us about the power of memory in our battle with our minds, a battle against forgetting our past, forgetting history.
All That I Am: A Novel is about a little known chapter of German history. Questions often arise as to why the German people did not rise to stop Hitler, to halt his machine in its beginnings; or why the rest of the world paid no heed to the urgent warnings of the intellectuals and political activists of the time; or why Hitler and Nazism would not be defeated; or why evil was triumphant over good-allowing millions of people to be murdered, executed, exterminated? This beautifully written, evocative novel attempts to answer these questions and provide a rare insight into the hearts and minds of brave men and women who in the early 1930's dared to resist Hitler and the Nazi regime, and who worked tirelessly to bring him down and terminate the Third Reich.
All That I Am: A Novel is an extraordinary and unnerving work of historical fiction based on very real people, in very real events, during a terrifyingly foreboding era between the horrific World Wars of Twentieth Century Europe.
Written with deceptively simple prose, All That I Am: A Novel is rich with subtext. With characters of remarkable depth and extraordinary intelligence, most of whose names are genuine, Funder's stunning narrative arc takes a story line grounded in actual history and makes it soar with exhilarating passion. All That I Am: A Novel is a novel about the finest aspects of humanity when humanity is challenged by the terrors of greatest evil.
Funder has "reconstructed" this story from pieces of real evidence left behind in the wreckage of history, pieces of a very true story belonging to her personal friend, Ruth, to whom this novel is dedicated. Ruth and a tightly knit group of courageous and heroic friends fled into exile from Germany in 1933 on a bold and dangerous mission to alert their fellow Germans as well as the world to the dangers of Adolf Hitler and the rising Third Reich. Funder unearthed this dramatic story "from fossil fragments, much as you might draw skin and feathers over an assembly of dinosaur bones, to fully see the beast. These are the bones I found."
The story line of All That I Am: A Novel drives forward slowly and deliberately, told from two alternating perspectives, that of Ruth in 2001 and that of the poet and revolutionary Ernst Toller in 1939. With frequent use of the flashback technique, the story unfolds and reads like a suspense thriller.
The narrative progresses sequentially but in a non-linear manner to provide a vividly detailed exploration of the triangulated relationship between Ruth, Toller and Ruth's fearlessly heroic cousin, Dr Dora Fabian. Ruth and Toller are the two for whom Dora was the sun. They move in her orbit and it was the force of Dora that kept them solid, kept them going, kept them fighting. Dora is the very heart and the soul of the militant leftist party to which the three are so dedicated.
And if Ruth, Dora and Toller are three, they are each also points on a 5 pointed star which includes Ruth's husband, Hans Wesermann, and Hans's best friend, Berthold Jacob. Together with a cell of other dedicated leftist political exiles, they are a daring unit of defiant young Germans who mount a fierce campaign at the risk of their own lives to not only resist and stop Hitler and his Nazi machine, but to alert their fellow countrymen as well as the entire world to the dangers of the horrific madman and his totalitarian regime... of its insipid oppression, of its unfathomable brutality and of its unbelievable savagery against not only European Jews, but other German people and the conquered populations of the Reich's European conquests.
"...'How can we allow this pudgy, cake-scoffing homosexual, this flatulent nail biter, to represent Germany? But seriously, they say that the Leader is a teetotaler, a bachelor, a non-smoking vegetarian, as if he were a man removed from our normal, base desires, uninterested in satisfying himself. Concerned only with the wellbeing of the German nation. But we say he fulfils his bloodlust in other ways. You do not have to have read Dr Freud to know that desire denied does not go away of its own accord. It wraps and moves like a river denied its course, it flows on to drown other things. And, in the case of Adolf Hitler, those things are us.'..." So spoke the voice of one of the young German resistors who manages to broadcast from exile in Czechoslovakia his courageous anti-Hitler messages into the heart Germany.
And this is the spirit that kept me riveted to this novel, that moved me to tears, or took my breath away with its passion, its intrigue, its suspense, its action, and above all, its inspiration. This is historical fiction at its finest and I applaud Anna Funder for a most exhilarating reading experience.
Told by two voices, "Ruth" and "Toller", the book is set in many places and time periods. London in 1933, Germany during and after WW1, Sydney in the recent past, and New York City in 1939 are a few of the settings. There were four main characters, Dora and her cousin Ruth, and Ernst Toller and Hans Wesemann, both WW1 veterans, writers, and, along with the women, members of an organisation of left-leaning German refugees determined to get the word out about what was happening in Nazi Germany. However, as danger of Nazi reprisals grow, allegiances are torn apart. Betrayals abound but Funder actually ties things up nicely in the end.
After finishing the book, I read the afterword where Funder tells the reader that the story is based on actual historic figures and their work. And here's where I think Anna Funder may have made a mistake in her writing. The story of Dora Fabian, Ruth Blatt, Ernst Toller, Hans Wesemann would have made excellent, straight-forward telling as a work of non-fiction. As fiction, Funder has to invent and imagine scenes and personalities, and I didn't feel her writing was as strong as it should be. The end of the book was stronger because she was working with solid fact.
It's presumptuous and rather rude for an amateur reviewer to take an author to task. I don't like writing a review like that, but I did finish Funder's novel wanting to know more about the characters' actual lives. A quick trip to Wiki gave me some answers about some of the characters - including a translated page from "Wiki-Poland" about Wesemann. I wish Anna Funder had written a non-fiction portrait of these very real people. I think it would have been better written and more interesting.
I'll be anxious to see what other reviewers write about "All That I Am". I bet some will really like it. I just wish I liked it more.
The novel is based on the true story of real people who opposed the Nazis rise to power and then, at immense personal risk both in Germany and in exile, tried to alert the world to the evil the Nazis represented. It is an important and inspirational story which I ought to have found gripping and moving, but I'm afraid it was neither for me. I find it hard to put my finger on why - it is well researched, Anna Funder writes good, clean prose and the story itself is of very direct personal relevance to me. Somehow, though, it felt rather turgid and worthy. I also found the fractured timescale annoying; it's not so much confusing as very distracting and it felt like an unnecessary trick which kept preventing me from really engaging with the story.
I can see why plenty of other reviewers here have thought this a very good book, and I wouldn't want to put anyone off trying it, but for me it was quite a struggle to get through and ultimately rather disappointing.
I was sure I was going to like this book, its set in a period of history which usually interests me and it is a well written, worthy tale. While I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from reading it, like most other well written worthies I've read, it left me cold.
The non linear timeline had an incoherent feel to me, there was no strand to grab on to and follow and get immersed in.
I kept hoping that Ruth's musings on her experiences of old age had some relevance to the main plot but no. When her story did pick up a bit I was too disconnected from the plot to care.