Hans Fallada's Iron Gustav: a tale of German life delayed by 60 years

Iron Gustav: A Berlin Family Chronicle tells of the devastation the first world war on family life, but it had to survive the influence of Nazi and British censors to get here

Four years ago, an English translation of Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada's thriller set in Nazi Germany – became a publishing phenomenon more than six decades after he wrote it. Following that astonishing success, Penguin Classics is now bringing out Iron Gustav: A Berlin Family Chronicle, Fallada's powerful portrayal of the devastating effects of the first world war on a family and a country, written in 1938.

The project went through a tortuous journey, with rewrites ordered by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, which have been taken out of the new edition. It does not include, for example, an ending in which the main protagonist joins his son in becoming a member of the Nazi party.

In the introduction to the edition, Fallada's biographer Jenny Williams writes that when signing a 1937 contract for a story of "a German family" from 1914 to 1933, Fallada little suspected how much grief it would cause him.

Fallada refused to join the Nazi party and was denounced by neighbours for "anti-Nazi" sympathies. Goebbels made clear that if Fallada did not know what he thought of the Nazi Party, then the Nazi party would draw its own menacing conclusions. Succumbing to the pressure, Fallada added passages, making a son of Gustav a stormtrooper and showing that membership of the party made someone "a real man again".

In a 1946 letter he admitted that the changes were made from fear: "The guilt of every line I wrote then still weighs on me today." As it transpired, the book was still deemed to be insufficiently pro-Nazi and was removed from shops.

Puttnam publishers brought the novel out in Britain in 1940, censoring material perceived to be too pro-German. Nicholas Jacobs, co-translator of the new edition, has reinstated some 85,000 words: "Up to a third [of the new English edition] is new."

Williams points out that the novel is not a paean to National Socialism, and that Fallada did the minimum to satisfy Goebbels. She said: "Fallada, who later described these changes as 'stupid tinkering around', expected that they would not satisfy Goebbels".

Penguin describes Iron Gustav as a classic example of Fallada's gift for acute observation, capturing the joys and tragedies of ordinary lives: "a vivid family chronicle" from the first world war to Hitler's takeover.

Williams told the Observer that the new edition is "as close as possible" to Fallada's original: "It's very exciting."

Fallada died aged 53, before Alone in Berlin was published. Now the book is to be turned into a film by Vincent Perez with a cast that includes Emma Thompson.

Contributor

Dalya Alberge

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Global bestseller was turned down 60 years ago by British publisher

The story of how Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin was rejected in 1948 has emerged in a letter found in Jerusalem

Dalya Alberge

06, Mar, 2011 @12:14 AM

Article image
Rereading: Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin
Rereading: Written in two months in 1946, Alone in Berlin, Hans Fallada's account of a working-class couple's resistance to the Nazi regime, poses profound moral questions. Helen Dunmore on a miraculous novel

Helen Dunmore

07, Jan, 2011 @11:40 AM

Article image
Publisher dusts off missing chapter in Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin
Bestseller set in Nazi Germany and published in communist era is to have controversial chapter reinstated

Abby d'Arcy Hughes

09, Mar, 2011 @7:08 PM

Article image
Hans Fallada's fable of anti-Nazi resistance | David Cesarani

David Cesarani: The 60-year-old novel Alone in Berlin is being puffed as a tribute to the human spirit, but it's more an apologia for ambivalence

David Cesarani

01, Jun, 2010 @9:00 AM

Article image
Hans Fallada's anti-Nazi classic becomes surprise UK bestseller
First English translation of novel about Gestapo hunt for German couple who defied Hitler enjoys record sales

Dalya Alberge

22, May, 2010 @11:06 PM

Article image
Hans Fallada novel, Nightmare in Berlin, gets first English translation
Story of married couple contending with a devastated postwar Berlin follows runaway success of Alone in Berlin

Alison Flood

28, Jul, 2016 @2:23 PM

Article image
Reading group: Is Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin too crude for comfort?

It's unsophisticated in style, but Hans Fallada's story of ordinary people's struggle against the Nazi regime gives us a sense of emotional truth

Sam Jordison

20, Mar, 2013 @9:22 AM

Article image
Reading group: Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin is a moral maze we can't resist
Sam Jordison: This gripping dark thriller invites us to confront Fallada's moral dilemmas – in life as in the book – as if they were our own

Sam Jordison

12, Mar, 2013 @3:11 PM

Article image
Kerouac's 'lost' debut novel is published 70 years after its conception at sea
Beat generation author Kerouac shows signs of future rebellion in 158-page maritime tale published by Penguin

Stephen Bates

25, Nov, 2011 @7:24 PM

Article image
Testament of Youth: Vera Brittain's classic, 80 years on

Elizabeth Day explores why this book about the futility of death remains one of the most powerful and widely read war memoirs of all time

Elizabeth Day

24, Mar, 2013 @12:05 AM