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All That I Am: A Novel [Hardcover]

Anna Funder
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 7 2012
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 Weimar Germany. All three friends are working to secure the release of prisoner Ernst Toller, a hero of the 1919 revolution, celebrated conscience of the Republic and the wunderkind of German theatre. Ten years later, Ruth and Hans are married and living in Berlin when Hitler comes to power, and their glamorous Weimar life comes abruptly to an end. Ernst is forced by the newly installed Nazi regime to flee the country, and Dora follows him into exile with Hans and Ruth not far behind. The four take refuge in London in 1933, and dedicate themselves to a passionate, dangerous mission: to bring down Hitler, and alert the British government to the very real Nazi threat to which it has remained willfully blind. Based on a true story, Anna Funder’s novel brings to light new—and very early—heroes of the resistance. All That I Am is their heartbreaking story—a very special novel with an uncommon depth of humanity and wisdom, a searing and intimate portrait of courage and its price, of desire and ambition, and of the devastating consequences when they are thwarted.

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Review

?A sweeping first novel that covers love and war, friendship and betrayal, and the bonds that define a life. It is a moving and ambitious work.? ? ANN PATCHETT

() --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

When Hitler seizes power in 1933, a tight-knit group of friends and lovers suddenly become hunted outlaws overnight. Dora, liberated and fearless; her lover, the great playwright Ernst Toller; Ruth; and Ruth's journalist husband, Hans find refuge in London. There, using secret contacts deep inside the Nazi regime, they take breathtaking risks to warn the world of Hitler's plans for war. But England is not the safe haven they think it will be, and a single, chilling act of betrayal will tear them apart....

Based on true events, All That I Am is testament to some of the earliest—now forgotten—heroes of the resistance to Hitler.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By John Kwok TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
When it is done extraordinarily well, as the justly celebrated Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin series demonstrates, historical fiction can make the past come alive for readers, transporting us back through time via the hearts and minds of compelling, truly memorable, characters. Much has been written already on the early days of Hitler and Nazi Germany, of which one of the more important recent histories is Richard J. Evans's "The Coming of the Third Reich", which Anna Funder cites as an important reference while writing her debut novel, "All That I Am", that recounts the fates of several German dissidents, refuges from Nazi Germany, in the early and mid 1930s. Told primarily in flashback in New York City in 1939, and also, in Berlin and then later, London, "All That I Am" revolves around eminent German dissident writer Ernst Toller, his friend and lover, Dora Fabian, and Dora's younger cousin Ruth Becker (in real life, Ruth Blatt, whom Funder would befriend decades later), unaware of the looming dangers inherent in their effort in starting a resistance movement inside Germany against Hitler's Nazi dictatorship, just as he and his fellow Nazis are consolidating their power, violently wiping away the last remaining vestiges of the democratic Weimar Republic. While Anna Fulder deserves ample praise for the quality of her prose, the story she tells is better suited in a style more reminiscent of Ian Fleming or John Le Carre, with fictionalized characters as memorable as James Bond or George Smiley; a story that may have been far more compelling if rendered as nonfiction, rather than as fiction. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Dec 16 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book that I had read and bought it for my daughter in Canada via Amazon. I have given it five stars but perhaps for someone living outside Australia it might be a four as later in the book it is set in Australia. Anyone interested in stories of the Second World War will find this interesting. Not interested? Don't be put off as the characters woven through are wonderfully described. It has some twists which come as a surprise.
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5.0 out of 5 stars `When Hitler came to power I was in the bath.' June 6 2012
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
As the novel opens, Ruth Becker is an elderly woman, living in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Ruth has not forgotten the past, but she prefers to keep it at a distance. But Ruth's defences crumble when she receives Ernst Toller's papers from the past. From a shared past: Toller's perspective is looking back from 1939, her own perspective adds an additional 60 years of life to that view.

`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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  179 reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jewish comrades who screamed the alarm that the world failed to heed Dec 8 2011
By Harold Wolf - Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Historical, face-slapping consciousness, profound characterization. Forces readers to terms with human failure of the past. `All That I Am' is Anna Funder's first novel, not her first good book. Here Funder offers an intellectual novel-literary journey depicting a Jewish woman and man caught up in personal and political opposition to their country's (Germany) direction. They reflect from two different era's she in 2001, he in the 1930's, through memory leaps to a past activist camaraderie. Readers are strained looking through the psyche of Ruth and Toller, feeling momentary joys, pains, fears as experienced in the fray. Ruth & Toller permit your glimpse of Dora the delectable, the indescribable, the tough, the mystifying. There was a magnitude of need inside them to disclose foreseen holocaust, yet a bald united humanness of living life lustfully.

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.
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Some saw it, though, for what it was: the consolidation of a killer's state." Dec 9 2011
By Evelyn A. Getchell - Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Do you ever think back and remember what you were doing when you heard about the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001? Or when you heard John Lennon was assassinated? Or Bobby Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy? Or maybe you can go back farther still and recall how you felt when you heard about Kent State? And even farther, about Pearl Harbor? We often do this-attempt to parallel our personal memories with history-and that is how Anna Funder's powerful debut novel, All That I Am: A Novel, opens. No, I think I would rather say that that is how Anna Funder allows history to explode, to burst open...like an embolism in the brain.

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.
39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but a bit turgid Jan. 12 2012
By Sid Nuncius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Only three stars for a novel on this subject from a deservedly highly-respected author will probably be regarded by many people as tantamount to sacrilege, but the truth is that this book failed to engage me fully either in its story or its characters.

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.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not one of my favorites Jan. 21 2012
By C.E. - Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I was looking forward to reading this novel based on it subject matter, the reviews that others have posted, and the respect that the author has gained both personally and professionally. I was surprised, however, once I started reading it. I just didn't live up to my expectations.

I was greeted with a book that seemed to wrestle with its own subject matter. The prose was unnecessarially plodding, cumbersome, and the plot moved very slowly. The history lesson was great, but I honestly felt as if I was reading a textbook. It was a chore. The novel is told in two viewpoints, but the author does not make it clear when we are switching those points, and at what point in time we are jumping to. Overall, the book just felt borish and too much effort was required to enjoy it.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Really Wanted To Like It Jan. 2 2012
By Ogr8ys1 - Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I received this book with some anticipation having great interest in Germany between the Weimar Republic and September 1, 1939. How did a great nation like Germany succumb to the trappings of a man like Hitler and especially how those who opposed the Nazi movement reacted, retreated, and thankfully never gave up.

This books is wordy, and somewhat confusing as narrators leap back and forth in time whereas the main protagonist Toller is shown in a light that is most unkind as well as the self serving Dora and the awestruck Ruth. The novel is based on real life events and people of that era. The author does a fine job describing the "feel" of the times, but the pacing of the novel did not allow me to join her characters as it took me a few weeks of going back and forth and reading several books in between this one.

It is slow and tedious reading and if you do a little research on the net you will find that the truth that lies within these characters is more fascinating than the novel you are about to read. I would recommend Alan Furst if this period of history interest you off the top of my head. My only hope is that the edition I read was an advanced copy and perhaps with a strong editor the pace of the novel can keep up with the events that the author describes. 2 1/2 stars.
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