Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review: All That I Am by Anna Funder

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Slow paced and political, this literary novel about German playwright Ernst Toller and German journalist Hans Wesemann during the lead up to WWII, won't appeal to everyone. It's half told from Toller's point of view, during his exile from Germany in New York during the 1930s, where he dictates his story and reminisces about the love of his life, activist Dora Fabian. The other half is told from the point of view of a pseudo-fictional character, the wife of Hans Wesemann and also the beloved cousin of Dora, Ruth. The story jumps around a lot (and doesn't always make clear from the start where in the timeline it's jumped to), from Ruth's old age in Australia of 2002, to her memories of the 1920s and 30s; and from Toller's exile in the 1930s to his own time in Germany in the 1920s. The four start out as friends, so their stories are entwined.

As it's told mostly in present tense, I struggled to get into it at first, but soon realized there was a logic and consistency to the choice of tense. Ruth's memories are told in past tense, while her present thoughts are naturally told in present tense. Toller's characters were a little more confusing since they are entirely told in present tense regardless of the time period. The story addresses this when his transcriber asks him why he dictates about the past in present tense and he explains his reasons, which I won't mention because I don't want to reveal to much.

Because of the way it was written and the way it jumps around in the timeline, it could be difficult to follow at times. On the up side, there were some really great moments. It's mostly about the relationships between these four characters (which are fabricated relationships but that doesn't cheapen the story), how they individually deal with the loss of their home land to the Nazi party, and how they secretly fight back with espionage-like methods to publicize the truth to the world.

It was a great story but sometimes the way it's told let it down a little bit. I wanted to love it more than I did but I was still glad I read it.

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