Anna Funder – All That I Am

Anna FunderAll That I Am tells the story of a small group of German resistance workers during the rise of Nazism. The story is narrated by two persons in two different times and locales recalling the events that so energised and then shattered their lives. Driven from Germany after the Nazis seize power, the group find refuge in London and seek to alert both the British public and their own countrymen of the growing threat posed by Hitler and his party. But all is not well in the little group and a devastating event tears them apart with severe implications for all of them.

Anna Funder won the Miles Franklin literary award for this novel in 2012 – deservedly in my estimation. I recall there being some disquiet around the award at the time. Is the book “Australian” enough, seeing it is largely set in London? Is it fictional enough? The second point is interesting. Funder has built her story around real persons, including a friend, Ruth Blatt (1906-2001) who serves as one of the book’s narrators. Ernst Toller (1893-1939), a German playwright is the book’s other voice, while Dora Fabian (1901-1935), activist, writer and journalist is the central figure in the book. Historical drama is probably my favourite genre, though I did not realise until I reached the acknowledgements at the end of book, just how historical it was. It remains, though, a work of fiction filled with intrigue and pathos.

Funder’s characters are believable, heroic and tragic. She manages to capture a sense of the terror and desperation which must have pervaded those living through the times, as well as English accommodation to Nazism in the Baldwin-Chamberlain period. The book is well-written, cleverly structured around the two voices, and ultimately, deeply humane. It draws the reader into the story, and the suspense Funder generates keeps the pages turning. The final pages gather some loose threads and lead to a pleasing resolution of the story.

In recent months I have read two stories by Australian authors written against the backdrop of Nazi Germany (the other was The Book Thief). Both are excellent, both are well-worth reading, both highly recommended.

4 thoughts on “Anna Funder – All That I Am

  1. You’re getting through a lot of fiction. I haven’t read All That I Am, but I should have. The controversy relates to the stipulation Miles Franklin left that it be a work which presents the Australian life in any of its phases – an ambiguous phrase. I am the only person in the world who doesn’t like The Book Thief, though even I recognise it’s not without its charms. (To use a double negative.)

  2. PS: I attended an interesting work-in-progress on Friday partially about “holocaust piety” in fiction, from Gillian Rose and now Matthew Boswell – the idea that there are certain expectations of appropriate representations of the holocaust and Nazi Germany which have shaped what has been published and how works are received. I’d be interested in how these two works fit into that framework. (The paper was on Remains of the Day.)

    1. Well, Nathan, I think you will have to read the book and answer that question! There is a great deal of “holocaust piety” in theology, as well. It’s not a bad thing for our triumphalism to be chastened…

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