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Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism by…

Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism

by Hans Fallada

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Review first posted on BookLikes:

Hans Fallada was a troubled soul.

Fallada was one of the eminent writers of the Weimar Republic who found their art just as change of politics made it increasingly difficult - even impossible - to practice it.

Nowadays, Fallada is not well known outside of Germany - possibly with the exception of the odd enthusiast, and I wager that even in Germany his books are true classics - meaning that people may remember some of his rather catchy titles but far and few between have read them.

Anyway, in this short collection of episodes, Fallada gives some insight into the life of a morphine addict in 1920’s Berlin. In the second part of the book, he turns to the life in prison at around the same time. His own experiences feature heavily in both parts of the book. Fallada was an addict. In his own words there was no time when he was not hooked something or another be it morphine, alcohol, nicotine or even caffeine. Addiction had always been a struggle for him and he constantly tried to wean himself of one substance by using another. Episodes of drug addiction intermingled with episodes of mental ill-health and imprisonment but somehow Fallada still managed to write some of the most readable, moving and also critical accounts of life as he saw it.

What stands out for me after reading The Short Treatise is the absolute urgency and focus that the morphine addiction demands from its victims.

"But I still don’t go, even though it’s nearly nine o’clock, I stare at the coffee I poured myself, and I think: caffeine is a poison that stimulates the heart. There are plenty of instances of people killing themselves with coffee, hundreds and thousands of them. Caffeine is a deadly poison, maybe almost as deadly as morphine. Why didn’t it ever occur to me before: coffee is my friend! And I gulp down one, two cups. I sit there for a minute, staring into space, and wait. I go on trying to kid myself, even though I know I’ve been deliberately trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Inevitably, my stomach refuses to keep even that watery coffee down. I can feel my whole body shake and a cold sweat come over me, I need to get up, I am shaken with cramps, and then sour bursts of bile. ‘I’m going to die,’ I whisper to myself, and stare into space."
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Hans Fallada was born Rudolph Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen (21.7.1893) in Greifswald, Germany. His father was a magistrate, who would soon become a supreme court judge and his mother was from a solid middle-class background. In 1899 the family relocated to Berlin following the first of several promotions his father received. 1901 saw Fallada entering his first school, which was not a success and lead to the child burying himself in books, eschewing literature more in line with his age for authors such as Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. By 1909 the family once more relocated, this time to Leipzig, following his father's appointment to the Imperial Supreme Court. A road accident in 1909, followed by the contraction of typhoid in 1910 marked a major turning point in the now 17 year old Fallada’s life and was also where the life-long drug problems were born - due to the pain killing medication he needed for his injuries. The end result of this was several botched suicide attempts culminating in the death of his close friend (Hanns Dietrich), this time disguised as a duel, because it was considered a more honourable death. This was somehow bungled with Fallada surviving. . Nonetheless, the death of his friend ensured his status as an outcast from society. Although he was found innocent of murder by way of insanity, from this point on he would serve multiple stints in mental institutions.

Whilst in a sanatorium he started writing poetry & also tried his hand at translation, without much success, before finally hitting his stride as a writer, with the publication of his first novel, Der junge Goedeschal (Young Goedeschal) in 1920. During this period he lost his younger brother in the First World War, and was he also struggling with morphine addiction.

Which brings me to the Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism by Hans Fallada, this wonderful little book by Penguin (Mini Modern Classic) contains two stories – the title tale and Three Years of Life, both published in English for the very first time*. Both draw heavily on the writers own history of addiction – in the first story we follow the protagonist, who has one obsession that being his next hit, everything is subservient to that desire, there is no friendship, no relationship that doesn’t have it’s roots in the feeding of the addiction, every second, every nanosecond is a slave to that one impulse.

“I knew I had to have morphine at any price. My whole body was painfully jittery, my hands shook, I was full of a crazed thirst, not just in my mouth and throat, but in every cell of my body.

I picked up the telephone and called Wolf. I wanted to catch him off-guard, so, with a faltering voice, I croaked out: “Have you got any benzene? Hurry! I’m dying!”

And fell back on to the pillows, groaning. A deep and solemn relief.”

Wolf is the closest thing the hero(?) of this tale, has to a friend, not counting the drug itself and yet his sole purpose is as a conduit to more highs, this is understood by both the individuals in this relationship.

In the second tale “Three Years of Life” the narrator (Hans Fallada) has reached an impasse in the way his life has gone, completely disenchanted, he knows things can’t go on. This doesn’t stop him downing half a pint of cognac before proceeding with his plan to embezzle his employer of twelve thousand marks before what seems like a failed attempt to escape his addiction…...........

http://parrishlantern.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/short-treatise-on-joys-of-morphinis... ( )
  parrishlantern | Jul 3, 2012 |
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