I know it’s only the middle of January and it’s ridiculously early to start talking about books of the year but I’ll be very surprised if this one is not on my list in December! I loved every minute of this funny and charming yet dark and poignant German novel from 1932.
Johannes Pinneberg (Sonny) and Emma Morschel (Lammchen) are a young German couple in their early twenties. After discovering that Lammchen is pregnant they get married and move into their first rented home together in the town of Ducherow. As they await the birth of their child (who they think of as The Shrimp), Sonny and Lammchen struggle to get by in the harsh economic conditions of 1930s Germany.
When Sonny loses his job (because his employer has discovered that he is married and no longer free to marry his daughter), he and Lammchen are forced to move to Berlin in search of work and cheaper accommodation. The trouble is, in times of high unemployment and widespread poverty, jobs are not easy to find and rents are high (and the situation isn’t helped by Sonny’s impulsive decision to surprise Lammchen with the expensive dressing-table she’d set her heart on, or Lammchen, suffering from cravings, eating all the salmon on her way home with the shopping). But while others around them lie, cheat and think only of themselves, the honest, hard-working Pinnebergs are determined to survive and to create a happy, safe environment for their new baby.
It was such a relief to find that I loved this book, as I’ve had mixed experiences with Hans Fallada’s novels in the past. Alone in Berlin, which I read in 2011, remains one of my favourite books that I’ve read since I started blogging, but the next one I picked up, A Small Circus, was a huge disappointment and put me off wanting to try any more of his books. I was hesitant to start reading Little Man, What Now? but I’m so glad I did because the problems I had with A Small Circus – the translation, the unlikeable characters, the unfamiliar politics and the fact that most of the novel was written in the form of dialogue – were not problems at all with this book. I was happy with the translation (though I wish I was able to read it in its original German), the Pinnebergs were both lovely, the politics stayed in the background and there was a good mixture of dialogue, action and description.
The book was originally published in 1932 in German as Kleiner Mann, was nun? and a successful film version followed. It’s easy to see why it was so popular, as according to the Afterword, 42% of German workers were unemployed in 1932 (compared with 22% in Britain) and many people would have been able to identify with Lammchen and Sonny. The book still feels relevant today, with many countries around the world suffering high unemployment in recent years. In 1930s Germany, the resulting poverty opened the way for the National Socialist and Communist parties. Yet the novel is far less political and far more domestic than I thought it would be at first.
As Sonny moves from job to job he meets people from a range of different backgrounds and religious or political beliefs, but he doesn’t side with or against any of them; his biggest concerns are for his wife and unborn child. This is not a story that deals with the bigger issues of the time, but about the immediate day to day struggles that ordinary people faced. Sonny is the ‘little man’ of the title, aware that he is only one of millions in the same position, but what sustains him throughout his ordeals is his love for Lammchen and his knowledge that however hard things may be he is still lucky in so many ways.
I liked both of the Pinnebergs from the beginning. I couldn’t help thinking how rare it is that we actually get to read a book about the daily lives of a couple who are happily married, rather than a book that deals with the breakdown of a marriage or one that ends with the wedding rather than beginning with it, as this one does. Sonny and Lammchen are a husband and wife who really love each other, who discuss things together and make decisions as equals. Their story feels completely realistic and the problems they face are the same problems that many young married couples will face: managing their money, finding somewhere to live, worrying about their jobs and preparing for the arrival of their first child. There’s an innocence about Lammchen and Sonny that makes them completely endearing and I think it would be almost impossible to read this book and not fall in love with them both!
While this book is available for Kindle, it seems that paperback and hardback copies of this particular Fallada title are harder to find. If you do have the opportunity to read it I hope you’ll enjoy this glimpse of 1930s German life as much as I did.
12 thoughts on “Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada”
I loved Alone in Berlin but wasn’t drawn to A Small Circus. This sounds right up my street. I must seek it out on Kindle.
A Small Circus was so disappointing! I couldn’t believe it was by the same author who wrote this book and Alone in Berlin.
I was so impressed by Alone in Berlin (thus far my only Fallada read), so this is going straight on my list – thanks Helen!
This is a very different type of story from Alone in Berlin but I loved it almost as much. Hope you do too!
An excellent review and I agree with you completely. I’m not sure that many people know about this book or Hans Fallada which is a shame. Alone in Berlin absolutely blew me away.
Yes, Fallada definitely deserves to be more well-known. Alone in Berlin is an amazing book and I must read it again one day!
This sounds fantastic! I haven’t read Alone in Berlin either, but I might have to add both to my list. 🙂
They are both fantastic books – definitely worth adding to your list! 🙂
I am adding both to my list! Hopefully there will be Nook editions too – one of these days I will actually read all the e-books I am collecting.
The US title of Alone in Berlin is Every Man Dies Alone and it’s widely available in either book or ebook format. It only seems to be this one that there’s a problem with, which I don’t understand as it’s such a great book!
I have Every Man Dies Alone (aka Alone in Berlin) on my to-read list. This sounds like a lovely book too.
I hope you love Every Man Dies Alone as much as I did!