Iron Gustav by Hans Fallada

Following the success of the recently published and soon to be cinematised “Alone in Berlin”, Hans Fallada is back with another masterpiece of unearthed artistic creation. First published in its final form over 60 years after it’s inception, ‘Iron Gustav’ survived censors both British and Nazi, as well as troubles that so often controlled Fallada’s psyche. Yet 60 years is a wait infinitely worthwhile, as Fallada finally provides an answer for the question: ‘how can an entire nation be so far mislead?’

Set in Berlin during the transition between two world wars, ‘Iron Gustav’ follows the fortunes of the Hackendahl family as they struggle to retain identity and hope as what had once seemed so solid falls todust and pity. Though this would have been almost unrecognizable to the version first published and by plagued by rewrites dictated by Dr Goebbels, during which almost an entire third of the book was lost. The alterations greatly affected Fallada, who after the war was to become the sweetheart of the Berlin literary scene before being incarcerated in an asylum, who admitted “the guilt of every line I wrote still weighs heavy on my today”.

Regardless of the narrative surrounding the books publication, is it the work itself which is truly astounding. In providing the social and emotional depth neccesary to comprehend an event as complex as a world war Fallada is second to none. This is not a story of patriotic ideals, good and bad, winner or loser, but at it’s best simply a human story with resounding implication and gravity. His biggest strength is the ability to seamlessly create a blend of realism and metaphor through which the family Hackendahl becomes a microcosm of German society. The question is will the novels title character, the man of Iron himself, endue or be shattered as the image of his fatherland is slowly dismantled by war. Here the small tragedies of everyday life are those shared by an entire nation.

Fallada could be likely to any number of great authors, from Dostoevsky, Hunter S. Thompson and Christopher Isherwood, but like all great authors his style is exclusively his own and entirely engaged with his subject matter. However despite any literary comparison it is the magnitude, sensitivity and personal investment of Orson Welles at the height of his powers of which I am most reminded. in ‘Iron Gustav’ Fallada has created a work of art at least equal to citizen kane in its depiction of an entire culture fed through the experiences of one man.

Germany is laid bare through Iron Gustav and America is through CFK. Such a work of art is great relief to the faceless drugery of stastics and information which cloud discussions surrounding war. Read is for the family narrative. Read it for the historical context. Read it for the delicate yet expansive style. Just read it.

Lawrence Hodgkinson – St. Pancras bookseller


£9.99 and in stock

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