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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Lilly and Her Slave by Hans Fallada (translated by Alexandra Roesch)

The story of Hans Fallada is one of mystique and misery. Born Rudolf Ditzen, the writer went on to mediocre success before handing himself into the police after being required to write an anti-semitic novel during the Nazi era of Germany’s history. Finding the relative comfort and seclusion of a jail cell, Fallada was able to break his alcohol and morphine addiction and face the demons that plagued his life, and his writing.

This never before released collection of short stories has been masterfully translated into modern English by Alexandra Roesch (herself a highly recognised and awarded translator) and contains writings that touch the heart and provoke conversations about some of the more taboo elements of life. Writing about these prohibited topics (the plots of Fallada’s stories include rape and abortion) in this way was certainly a daring move in the context of the era. Indeed, it is partially the reason for Fallada’s self-incarceration.

When reading the short stories, it is easy to forget that these are of a bygone era, such is the strength and poignancy of the prose. Dealing with these more taboo elements of life - a practice that has become increasingly common since the deal of Fallada - resonates strongly with a modern audience. The stories are filled with that poetic style that really exemplifies both the genre, and Fallada’s control over the language. Perhaps also a note to Roesch here also with the translation of the original German.

The title story, Lilly and her Slave is evocative and one of the classic short stories of a generation. Building on a structure that is uniquely Fallada, the story weaves, dips and dives throughout leaving the reader consistently guessing. It is reminiscent of a Chekhov character development, but with an added layer of sensuality.

In the final story of the collection Who can be the judge? Fallada builds on the premise of close characterisation through internal conflict. The use of syntax alone in this one makes it a stand out of grammatical construction.

Other stories in the collection are a mix, some of them are true classics with the anticipatory lyricism of Lilly and Her Slave and others are mediocre - perhaps why they were not published previously.

However, the standouts of the overall collection really make the reading worthwhile and fill the reader with the power and energy that a short story can build. Without doubt they are worthy of the time and energy involved with reading them.

Reviewer: Chris Reed



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