Monday, January 28, 2013

All That I Am - TLC Book Review


All That I Am by Anna Funder
Harper Perennial, 2011

Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of All That I Am from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.  However, the review that follows and the opinions within are all my own and offered without bias.

Cover? I think the two people on the cover are Ruth and Toller...I'm guessing because of the depth of sadness apparent on the woman's face.  I would expect the man's face to be more grieved as well, but he wanted to protect Ruth in a way and understood completely that they together had loved one person (Dora) with everything they had.
The cover fits...but it's not the best I don't think.  I've seen several other covers, and I like the Kindle cover shown below the most.



Title? I don't think any of us knows the true meaning of giving all that we are...until we have to.  These brave men and women who refused to follow blindly and tried to warn the rest of the world of impending danger should never be forgotten.

Reminded Me Of?  Ok, do not laugh.  In Mary Poppins, Mrs. Banks sings her suffragette song, including the following lyrics:

From Kensington to Billingsgate 
One hears the restless cries!
From ev'ry corner of the land:
"Womankind, arise!"
Political equality and equal rights with men!
Take heart! For Missus Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!

Why? I've said it before, and I'll say it again...I'm a lover of history.  My brain just can't be satisfied as long as there's more to learn.  And, oh, is there more to learn.  

What Now?  I'm going to search out Funder's first book, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall because I have so much to catch up on.  I've read a lot about Hitler and WWII, concentration camps, etc, but I know very little about the years before and Hitler's actual rise to power.  It was only with my first reading of The Book Thief that I realized there was a population of German people who did not support Hitler.  I am not usually a re-reader, but I will re-read All That I Am.  This is a book a person can enjoy and seek out missed details at least on a 2nd read if not a 3rd.  Seriously.  

Golden Lines


Please don't worry...I won't share all of these with you...but does this photo give you any indication of how much good stuff is in this book??  

I don't need money any more, but I do need to set the record straight.  As sure as I sit here today, Hitler will soon have his war.  (Not that anyone in this country seems to care - his opening salvo, the invasion of Czechoslovakia just weeks ago, has slid down to page thirteen in the New York Times.) (14)

The Kaiser called on us all to defend the nation, whatever our politics or religion.  He said, "I know no parties, only Germans..."  And then he said, "My dear Jews...My dear Jews!"  We were bowled over by our personal invitation to war.  War seemed holy and heroic, just as they had taught us at school - something to give our lives meaning and make us pure. (27)

Our revolution was a brief, post-war flirtation with the utopian left that was bloodily put down and then, with a parallel violence of the spirit, erased from national memory. (50)

"What we couldn't know back then," I continue, "is that on the night right back at the beginning of it all when the workers and soldiers elected Eisner our leader in the huge Mathaserbrau beer hall, the night that he proclaimed the Republic of Bavaria, if we had looked closely among the faces on the bench seats we would have seen in a corner an undistinguished, jowly returned corporal, not drinking, but watching." I tell her how this man seethed at Germany's defeat, denied the Kaiser's responsibility for the war and its loss.  Instead he blamed progressive Jews, pacifists and intellectuals for bringing Germany to her knees - we who had been left to clean up the mess when the government responsible for it fled.
"In 1923, while I was in prison, this man, Hitler, tried to take over Bavaira by force.  He was given a lenient sentence with privileges." (55)

Since I'd joined the Independents I had become used to talk about opposing government measures and proposing new ones, but it was an entirely novel notion to me that the government would lie to the people, even in the most serious of matters, such as sending men to war.  I can remember the shock of this awareness, the feeling of radical aloneness: if we couldn't trust the authorities, who could we trust?  The answer was: us. (67)

"You have twenty-four hours, sir.  You must be outside the borders of the Reich within twenty-four hours.  Or your citizenship will be revoked." (132)

The Reichstag fire and the persecution in its wake had sent fifty-five thousand Germans into exile - some two thousand writers and artists among them.  Several hundred of us ended up in Britain.  An exiled wit joked that we were the "Emigrandezza": the educated political opponents of the regime.  The mass of Jews came later.  There was nothing grand about us, though.  Everyone was dislocated and struggling - without our language, often without money, without readership and with no right to work. (160)

Our English visas also stipulated "no political activities of any kind."  But our lives would only have meaning if we could continue to help the underground in Germany, and try to alert the rest of the world to Hitler's plans for war.  We were being offered exile on condition that we were silent about the reason we needed it. (160)

Hitler might have muzzled the press but we thought that the people, once properly informed, would come to their senses and prefer their freedom. (As it turned out, we underestimated the liberation from selfhood the Nazis offered, the lure of mindless belonging and purpose.) (187)

The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the piece says, is going down there to try to negotiate something for the refugees with the Cuban government.  The US government has gone very quiet.  The Canadians have rejected the refugees outright.  And in Europe, Hitler is making the most of the situation, saying if the whole world is refusing to accept the Jews, how can Germany be blamed for their fate? (200)

What happens to you if you are declared by the powers that be to no longer exist, but persist in doing so? (204)

"There comes to man sometimes a sickness, psychic or spiritual, which robs him of all will and purpose and sets him aimlessly adrift in a longing for death, a longing which lures him irresistibly to destruction, to a mad plunge into chaos." Ernst Toller quote (245)

By nightfall on 1 July more than two hundred associates, acolytes and committed Nazis, as well as independents, conservatives, military men and political leaders, had been slaughtered.  Over a thousand more were under arrest. (258)

After the war I came to this sunstruck place.  It is a glorious country, which aspires to no kind of glory.  Its people aim for something both more basic and more difficult: decency. (340)


Summary

Dr. Dora Fabian, Ernst Toller, Dr. Ruth Becker and Hans Wesemann are professionals, friends and lovers who are exiled after WWI for speaking out against the rising Nazi regime.  They are not allowed to go home; they are not allowed to receive funds of any kind from home; they are not allowed to have correspondence from home; and most assuredly they are not allowed to participate in any kind of political activities while in exile...or they and thousands like them will be sent home to Them.  Living in constant fear, their small group of pacifists begins an underground effort of their own to get the word out to the rest of the world about Hitler's plans for war.  They sidestep the British government, Scotland Yard and eventually the Gestapo who are on every corner to squash any "problems."  They are eventually betrayed by one of their own, and the events leading up to that betrayal and its deep reaching effects haunt two of the survivors for the rest of their lives.  

What I Liked

My head was spinning with all the information...Google, Google and more Google

pacifist Independent party
The St. Louis, a ship full of Jews escaping Europe for Cuba
German soldiers' mutiny in the North Sea at the end of WWI...the beginning of the Revolution
May 1919 slaughter in the streets of Munich
Ernst Toller plays and writing from prison
gassing of political prisoners before the Jewish Holocaust
espionage by exiled Germans
Germany's Enlightenment Jews
Hitler's effect on women
party politics in German before WWII
political imprisonment to keep ideas of social justice at bay
April 26, 1933 - first Gestapo law passed - "the Fabian amendment"
the Reichstag fire
April 1, 1933 Goebbels warns Germans of the "Jewish spirit"
H.G. Wells involvement with exiled Germans' efforts
German efforts to cross national borders and silence immigrants
Commission of Inquiry into the Reichstag Fire
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Theodor Lessing examination of the irrational in political life
Fascism
Goring and Goebbels
Sylvia Pankhurst
John of Nepomuk
Hitler's June 30 called "meeting" with Ernst Rohm
Hitler and Goring's List of Unwanted Persons
President Roosevelt's response to the St. Louis
Otto Lehmann-Russbuldt
The Bloomsbury Deaths
Fenner Brockway
Austraila and Jewish immigrants
Nuremberg Trials


I loved that Funder used so much factual information...and quotes from the actual works of Toller, Fabian, and others embedded throughout her story.

Funder's rich descriptions of Toller's depression as well as Dora's liberal use of morphine and then of course Ruth's spiral into oblivion...the accidental as well as the purposeful one later in her life.  I never felt sorry for any of them because they wouldn't have wanted that.  They had jobs to do and they gave everything they were and had to follow what they felt was right even though at times the odds seemed and were insurmountable.  How else could they have dealt with the inevitable damages to their psyche?

The sensitive, yet honest treatment of politics FOR the lower class BY those who had no idea how the lower classes actually lived.


What I Didn't Like

There were times when I felt bogged down.  However, I didn't feel this way because of the writing; I felt this way because of my lack of background knowledge on many of the subjects/people mentioned.  I mean, really, my only knowledge of Sylvia Pankhurst was from Mary Poppins?  Oy.  


Overall Recommendation

All That I Am isn't for the faint of heart.  There's a lot here to consider and think about.  If you're interested in history that's been pretty much swept under the rug...but explains how the heck Hitler was able to mesmerize a nation into blind conformity, then you'll want to spend some time with Funder.  This one is not a quick read though; you need time to digest, google, and think through all the scenarios, people, events, and time to make the connections to the history most of us were taught in school.  
All That I Am will stay with me for a while.

The Author


Anna Funder





Other Stops on the Tour

Wednesday, January 23rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, January 24th: Walking With Nora
Friday, January 25th: Lisa’s Yarns
Friday, January 25th: Kristen’s Book Nook
Monday, January 28th: Peppermint Ph.D.
Tuesday, January 29th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, January 30th: From L.A. to LA
Thursday, January 31st: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Thursday, February 7th: Man of La Book
Monday, February 11th: nomadreader
Wednesday, February 13th: 5 Minutes For Books







15 comments:

  1. I'm so excited to read your review! I missed this tour but I really want to check this book out!

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  2. This sounds wonderful. I truly enjoyed "The Book Thief". I have always been interested with this time period but have not had the time to really read as much as I would like. Another book you would like if you have not already read it is "In the Garden of Beasts", from 1933 until he leaves Germany a few years later. It tells the story of our American Embassador in Germany trying to warn us about Hitler and how many in our government squashed these warnings, etc.

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    1. I have In the Garden of Beasts on my dresser right now. One of my good friends passed it along to me after she finished it just recently. She told me it was not a book to try and rush through, so I know I will like it. The idea that so many refused to see what Hitler really was is scary in so many ways.

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  3. The period in history before Hitler's rise to power is rife with history we just weren't taught in school and I'm sure is not being taught now. England was so exhausted from WWI it about ignored everything going. France was so vindictive it bled Germany dry with reparations that inflation was out of control.

    Hitler came to power on the backs of hunger and hatred. Not everyone agreed with him but his policies of fear and spying were strong enough to keep most in line.

    It's a period of studied ignorance on the part of the US and blind ignorance on the part of many other countries.

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    1. It certainly makes Hitler's rise to power seem more plausible to hear the entire story. I think today's generations dismiss the possibility of history repeating itself because Hitler was a sociopath and we would recognize that. However, Hitler didn't just appear on the scene one day...he was there for many years, weasling his way in, gaining people's trust. There is a scene in the book where Ruth goes to a Hitler rally to take photos, and the women in the audience are swooning over him...some even crying as they would have at an Elvis Presley or Beatles concert. Very scary indeed.

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  4. wow that's a lot of post its! must be great! yay!

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  5. I'm glad you enjoyed this because I read Stasiland a few years back and it's such a great book that I've been worried about trying some fiction by her in case it doesn't measure up. Sounds like there is nothing to fear though :)

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    1. I'm glad to hear Stasiland is good as well...I can't wait to read it!!

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  6. Peppermint Ph.D., I visited this post earlier today but ran out of time to leave a comment. This book sounds very profound and moving. I Google a lot as a result of my reading as well. Excellent and thorough review!

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    1. This post was a little long-winded, wasn't it? :P Profound and moving are two very good adjectives for this book...this is one of those that needs to make its way around the world and then back again.

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  7. I love the Mary Poppins reference! LOL I had forgotten all about that part!

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    1. I had too until I saw that name in All That I Am...I've been singing the song ever since :/ ;)

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  8. Ok, you had me with the suffragette song ... I always loved that song, and I know almost all the words. :)

    Thanks for being on the tour!

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