4 out of 5: Hans Fallada (real name: Rudolf Ditzen) wrote Every Man Dies Alone over the course of twenty-four days in late 1946, shortly after the Nazi defeat. Suffering from lifelong alcohol and drug addictions, Fallada died in a mental hospital just before Every Man Dies Alone was published. Based on the true story of Elise and Otto Hampel, this novel spotlights a Berlin couple who undertook a dangerous campaign of Nazi resistance by writing and distributing hundreds of anti-Nazi postcards over a three-year period during World War II. Thanks to Melville House, Every Man Dies Alone is now available in English for the first time.
Fallada’s personal conflicts with the Nazi regime (including denunciation and censorship) are apparent in his evocative portrayal of Berlin during the war, particularly the pervasive atmosphere of fear and oppression. Every Man Dies Alone is full of finely-drawn characters, many with real-life counterparts, who range from brave Nazi resisters to loyal and brutal supporters of Hitler’s regime. This novel’s unadorned prose and quick pacing give it the feel of a thriller, but this is a thriller with a deeper purpose. Fallada uses a lively plot to examine the motivations for resistance and to question its worth, particularly in those cases where unsophisticated subversions are destined to end in failure.
At its center, Every Man Dies Alone stands for the principle that all actions attempting to suppress evil, even failed actions, are necessary to uphold human dignity. After all, as one character notes, “no one could risk more than his life,” and this is true regardless of the impact of the action. Another resistor explains:
[W]e all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that doesn’t mean that we are alone  or that our deaths will be in vain. Nothing in this world is done in vain, and since we are fighting for justice against brutality, we are bound to prevail in the end.
Despite its bleakness, Every Man Dies Alone is ultimately hopeful and is “dedicated  to life, invincible life, life always triumphing over humiliation and tears, over misery and death.” A dark but uplifting tribute to human dignity and courage in the face of relentless brutality.