Little Man, What Now?, Paperback
4 out of 5 (3 ratings)




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Set in early 1930's depression era Germany--Hans Fallada's Little Man, What Now? is quite an interesting book. It follows the travails of a white collar salesman Johannes (aka Sonny) and his wife Emma (aka Lammchen) in their struggle to build a life together. Times are very hard indeed and Johannes has to walk a fine line to keep in the good books of his various bosses. It is not always easy and he's not always successful. After Johannes loses one job they move from a small town Ducherow to the big city of Berlin. Around him communists and nazis vie for power. The white collar worker is looked down upon by the more well organized blue collar ones--Johannes manages to get a position at a prestigious department store with the help of his mother's black marketeer boyfriend Jachmann--but even though he is one of the better salesman he gets constant pressure and micro management from above. He makes friends with another salesman Heilbutt--a committed nudist who happens to be the best salesman at the store and Heilbutt like Jachmann will come to his aid several times during the book.As a period piece this is very very good though the language feels somewhat stilted at times. In some respects it's reminiscent of John Dos Passos in describing the social concerns of a particular time and place. Fallada is a very empathetic writer who is clever enough not to let that empathy get in the way of his story so that the realism when it comes to the surface comes with a lot of impact. Another writer he reminds me of is Zola for instance--L'Assommoir. As well the time and place of his story is not too far off from Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz. Anyway I enjoyed it a lot and intend on reading more of his work.

Review by

This is the third book by Fallada I have read following on the heels of [Every Man Dies Alone] (or Alone in Berlin) and [The Drinker]. I have enjoyed every single one. Kudos has to be given to the translator, in this instance Susan Bennett, who makes this work so accessible. One day I will be fully conversant in German and be able to read the original! Until then, I shall enjoy the translated works which we are fortunate enough to have.Little Man What Now? tells the story of a young, newly married couple living through uncertain times and financial hardship. The threat of unemployment and homelessness is never far away. Sonny Pinneberg is a menswear salesman under extreme pressure from a manager who holds unrealistic expectations of his staff by increasing quotas which they must reach to get paid or face losing their jobs. His new wife, Lammchen, is expecting their first baby.The couple is clearly in love but lacking in funds. They somehow manage to work through the hardships they face with dignity, humour and the view that something good will happen soon. As with all the books I've read by Fallada, there is a sense of truth and honesty in the characters and in the story he presents. The story also transcends geography and time and the fact that this was based in Berlin in 1932 doesn't seem to matter. Many of the conversations Lammchen and Sonny have could surely be taking place in many homes across the globe today. They bicker, make up, laugh, cry and argue over things such as which is the right way to care for a child? What are they are going to eat? How to make ends meet? What shall we spend our little bit of money on? and so forth. However, there is more than enough lightness and humour filtering through the pages which leads the story on to be engaging and hopeful rather than dark and dreary.Fallada wrote during times of hardship and the Depression. He also suffered greatly throughout his life. At 16 he was run over by a horse-drawn cart and a year later he contracted typhoid. He was a tormented soul having life-long struggles with drugs and alcohol, several suicide attempts, one of which led to the death (manslaughter) of a friend following a botched suicide pact. He also had numerous stays in mental institutions. It's not surprising Fallada was influenced by what was happening around him and thus wrote about the darker and tougher side of life. However, despite all he experienced, his writing always manages to convey warmth, humour, hope and humanity which seep through the characters and relationships he brilliantly portrays. Whilst often hard hitting, you're never far away from a joke, a bit of hope or a warm hug from Fallada's accessible and affable writing.I love his works and have to say he has firmly become a leader in the running for my all time favourite author. Written in 1932, and just before the Nazis came to power, Little Man What Now seems as relevant today as I am sure it did then.

Review by

An interesting read that gives insight into what it was like to be a white collar worker in Berlin just prior to WWII. This is a fictional account of two newlyweds, but it should be noted that the author did extensive research on the subject and managed to portray an accurate picture of the struggles at the time. What makes the book so engaging is the humorous aspect that pervades the story - some critics have compared the main character to Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. A series of unfortunate events are consistently cushioned by the humor in the characters and plot line. What struck me the most about this volume is how much of the occurrences taking place in this book are similar to what goes on in modern times - note the manner in which employees are told to be grateful that they have a job by employers who abuse them and create unreasonable performance standards for the current economy. Some aspects of the human experience are universal and transcend time and culture.

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