Although the fact that Fallada approaches the story from the investigative standpoint might lead one to think it's a thriller, it isn't. Rather, this is a book about life in exceedingly difficult times and how people react both ethically and morally. Fallada, who died in 1947 just weeks before the book was published, gives us a story that examines and raises the question of the value and impact of resistance. Each ensuing chapter takes us through another step in the investigation or the events that unalterably impact the lives of each character, always crafted with an almost palpable sense of dread.
While I don't usually put much stock in book blurbs, the statement on the front cover by Holocaust survivor and memoirist Primo Levi is right on the mark: ""The greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis." That is particularly a huge statement given that Fallada is German. Yet that is perhaps what makes Every Man Dies Alone so powerful. It comes from someone who lived under the Nazi regime, who was familiar with the fear and surveillance, who was one of millions who, to at least some extent, went along to get along. But the book looks at the converse: what if you don't go along?
Every Man Dies Alone is not the story of a broad-based and wide-ranging resistance movement. It is not the story of a pattern or campaign of industrial or other sabotage. It is simply a story of individual conscience on the part of an older couple. "At least I stayed decent," Otto Quangel says at one point. "I didn't participate." Theirs is a story of resistance undertaken without knowing whether it produces results. It is a story of the ramifications of even mild defiance in a society where the Hitler and the Nazis are "everything, and the people nothing."
There is little doubt that even such small acts of resistance are courageous. The more profound question is whether they ultimately have any meaning after balancing the personal principles and redemption against the likely futility and body count. In exploring this dilemma, Every Man Dies Alone is a remarkable success.