More Lives Than One: A Biography of Hans Fallada by Jenny Williams – review

By John Dugdale

First published in 1998, Williams's biography has been updated and reissued in the wake of the extraordinary recent success of a new translation of Alone in Berlin. She has colourful material to work with, as Rudolph Ditzen (who adopted the pen name Hans Fallada) killed a friend in a youthful suicide pact that went disastrously wrong, went to jail as a serial embezzler, and throughout his life had spells undergoing treatment for psychiatric problems and drug addiction. His response to the Nazi era was far less courageous than that of Alone in Berlin's protagonists, largely consisting of getting drunk and hiding in a rural backwater – though he was recognised as an anti-fascist by the Soviet occupiers in 1945, who bizarrely made him a mayor. Yet somehow Ditzen remained a productive, commercial author, known for low-life realism and giving a voice to the beleaguered "little man". A more novelistic biographer would have exploited the dramatic potential of the crises, but Williams's life is astute, rigorously researched and engrossing.

Contributor

John Dugdale

The GuardianTramp

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