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All That I Am: A Novel by Anna Funder

All That I Am: A Novel (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Anna Funder

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9295322,694 (3.73)64
"Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past - and a part of history that has been all but forgotten. Another lifetime away, it's 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life. When Toller's story arrives on Ruth's doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she's right back among them - those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested - and in some cases found wanting - in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history." -- Book cover.… (more)
Title:All That I Am: A Novel
Authors:Anna Funder
Info:Harper (2012), Hardcover, 384 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading

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All That I Am by Anna Funder (2011)


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» See also 64 mentions

English (46)  Spanish (2)  Danish (2)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
I didn't care for the characters so had difficulty getting through it. ( )
  ellink | Jan 22, 2024 |
Fascism in Germany
Sadly I was disappointed in this book, probably because my expectations were too high. I was excited to read a new (for me) Australian writer, and I had read that the book had won the prestigious Miles Franklin Award in 2011.

The novel is based on true stories of a group of young Germans post-WW1 who hoped to help bring about a workers’ revolution, and who saw the danger of Hitler and his growing gang of thugs.

Their idealism is admirable, but the first three quarters of the book drags.

A couple of the main characters are annoying. I was especially annoyed by the supposedly charismatic de facto leader Toller who comes across as a cross between Che Guevara and Johnny Depp. His lover Dora and her best friend Ruth flee from Germany, together with Ruth’s very Aryan-looking Hans who Dora doesn’t trust.

Together this group of friends work together in England, to help like-minded people flee Germany, and to let the world know what’s going on in Germany , and what Hitler’s true intentions are.

Dora is just too perfect, loyal, hard-working, fully committed to the cause. Although she is the lover of his life, she and Toller live apart, with Toller later marrying a young woman scarcely out of her teens.

Hans and Ruth have an OK sort of a marriage but keep secrets from each other. Ruth suspects Hans has “crossed over” to the other side, and Dora is pretty well convinced of this.

It just doesn’t ring true. Ruth is an intelligent intellectual, a non-practicing Jew, short and with dark hair. How could such a woman live with an intellectually inferior blonde-haired blue-eyed Adonis, who even her best friend doesn’t trust?

And why would Toller, intellectual playwright and journo take up with a pretty floozie when the ever-so-perfect Dora is available?

The story of this close-knit group is told from the viewpoints of Ruth and Toller later in life. Both remember the events of the twenties and thirties in Germany, England, and the US from their different vantage points. Toller has a crush on his new assistant in the USA who reminds him of his young wife who eventually left him. Ruth is in hospital in Sydney where she is dying. She’s 100 years old. Her narration is the more interesting- both as the novel character and the professional narrator.

There are some splendidly-written scenes of the splendidly beautiful city of Sydney. Occasionally the book comes to life through Ruth’s eyes.

Certainly All That I Am has its moments. But it’s far too long - 13 listening hours, and the political aspirations of the group for a communist Germany are over-blown and over-explained. I didn’t really want to hear their discussions over a wooden table in a run-down flat in 1930’s London hour after hour.

What I did like about the novel is that it covers a little-known protest part of between wars Germany. There were people who warned the rest of Europe and the US.

The novel is reasonably well-crafted, but I think the flashbacks and changes in locations might confuse those with little knowledge of the first half of 20th century Germany. ( )
  kjuliff | Dec 29, 2023 |
The great strength of this book is that it is based on a true story. The heroism and courage of the protagonist and her colleagues are inspirational, and their outrage in the face of international apathy seems accurate. However, the prose never really soars and the tricksy structure, with endless casting back and forth in time adds nothing to the story. The paragraphs that are supposed to sound profound tend to come across as rather trite and don't match the majesty of the Ruth's life or the sacrifices of her friends. ( )
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
All That I Am is a tender account of the Jewish refugees that fled Hitler's Germany in the lead-up to the War, and their attempts to alert the Western World to the situation there. It's a story of loss, betrayal and fear, seen from the vantage point of the survivors in their old age.

The book reads like a spy story and is quite pacy. It is based on real events and characters, which lends it on authentic edge. I found it reasonably engrossing, but I did think that the author telegraphs most of her plot twists well in advance, which marred the book somewhat,

Another minor quibble I had is that this is quite clearly a European story, yet it received the Miles Franklin Award, for a novel about Australian experience. While the award can be justified on the basis that one of the survivors did indeed settle in Australia, there is pretty much nothing in this story peculiar to Australia. ( )
  gjky | Apr 9, 2023 |
This book tired me out. Not that it's overly long or a slog to get through, but Funder's telling of the fear, paranoia, and betrayal that infected people during Hitler's earliest years in power and the reach of that early power is exhausting. At one point I realized it was only 1933-35 that I was reading about and it was jarring to think that there was a decade to go before the end of the war.

Funder is an Australian writer and I'm participating in the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge. I'm interested in German history as my Mom is from Germany. I'm also interested in Australian history and writers these days because several years ago we connected with cousins who'd left Germany for Australia after the family was bombed out of Dresden in 1945. My cousins live in Sydney. They've visited the US several times and we've had a reunion in Germany. I hope to make it to Australia sooner rather than later. Of course I'll hit every bookstore I can find, but I digress--back to the book.

All That I Am is the story of a group of left-wing German activists at the end of the Weimar Republic: Ruth Becker, a self-described observer, and her husband Hans Wesemann; Ruth's cousin Dora Fabian; and Dora's lover Ernst Toller.

Dora is the center of the novel. The action of the novel jumps around throughout time and the story is told through the alternating perspective of Ruth and Toller. Ruth's focus is Dora and Hans and Toller primarily tells his own story as he's revising his memoir to include Dora. The time frame of the novel stretches from 1923 when Ruth, as a young girl, convalesces with Dora's family, to contemporary Australia where Ruth lives an old woman recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's. There is also mention of World War I, in which Toller fought, and his earliest activist years in Munich, but most of the action takes place between 1933-1939.

The book opens on the night of January 30, 1933, the day Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Ruth and Hans live in an apartment in the center of Berlin. They can see the Reichstag from their windows and hear Hitler give his first speech as chancellor. Hitler denounces communism. Hans eventually pulls Ruth away from the window to have some drinks, but first she rummages through their closet and pulls out a red flag, the symbol of the left movement, and hangs it out their window. Within a month, such an action would be not only illegal, but potentially suicidal.

As Hitler continues to build and consolidate his power, Dora and Hans do what they can to combat the growing extremism. Their weapons are reason and words, which are no match for the propaganda and violence of the Nazis.

The Reichstag burns on the night of February 27 and The Reichstag Fire Decree is issued the very next day. It basically suspended civil liberties and gave Hitler the power of martial law:

It "permitted arrests without warrant, house searches, postal searches; it closed the newspapers and banned political meetings. In essence . . . it prevented campaigning by any other parties before the election. By the end of that day, thousands of anti-Hitler activists were being held in 'protective custody' in makeshift SA barracks. . . . Soon there was not enough room. That was when they set about building the concentration camps" (133).

Overnight Ruth & Hans, and those in their circle of friends who are fortunate enough to be given time to get out of Germany, find themselves living as refugees.

Ruth, Hans, and Dora end up in England. But once there they realize their fight against Hitler will face new challenges:

"Our English visas stipulated 'no political activities of any kind'. But our lives would only have meaning if we could continue to help the underground in Germany, and try to alter the rest of the world to Hitler's plans for war. We were being offered exile on condition that we were silent about the reason we needed it. The silence chafed; it made us feel we were betraying those we had left behind. The British government was insisting on dealing with Hitler as a reasonable fellow, as if hoping he'd turn into one" (160).

"The German government had silenced writers in Germany, and now it was trying to silence those of us who'd managed to get abroad. The Nazis were putting pressure on the British government to prevent us addressing public events. They threatened reprisals against publishers in Britain who were publishing our work. It wasn't just about depriving us of a living, it was the first step to silence" (177).

One character works around the clock, in secret, of course, to carry on the fight against Hitler's take-over and ramp-up for war. Other characters try to work, too, but have a harder time finding their footing in exile. It's a story about friendship, love, bravery, cowardice, betrayal, and fear. Lots of fear and what it does to people.

I was more interested in the Ruth/Dora portion of the story than the Toller/Dora portion. I thought Toller was a rather flat character, a bit of a washed-up pompous ass, if you will, which can often make a character "interesting," but he came off like a non-entity. There's good reason for that, from the context of the story, but for me Dora stole the show. I also really enjoyed the older Ruth.

I won't go into anymore of the plot in order to avoid spoilers. I will say that there is no feel-good ending to this novel. It left me feeling wrung-out and hollow. I found myself thinking about the characters when I didn't realize my mind had drifted off to dwell on the story. It took a few weeks before I was ready to pick up another novel. However, don't let that sway you from picking up All That I Am. It's a powerful novel based on true events and real people. I highly recommend it.

It's a good companion to Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, a creative non-fiction account of 1933 through the eyes of America's first ambassador to Nazi Germany. If you read All That I Am and want to read another novel about German resistance to the Nazis I HIGHLY recommend Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone. ( )
  Chris.Wolak | Oct 13, 2022 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anna Funderprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bennett, JudyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reichlin, SaulNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In memory of Ruth Blatt (née Koplowitz)
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When Hitler came to power I was in the bath.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past - and a part of history that has been all but forgotten. Another lifetime away, it's 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life. When Toller's story arrives on Ruth's doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she's right back among them - those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested - and in some cases found wanting - in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history." -- Book cover.

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When eighteen-year-old Ruth Becker visits her cousin Dora in Munich in 1923, she meets the love of her life, the dashing young journalist Hans Wesemann, and eagerly joins in the heady activities of the militant political Left in Germany. Ten years later, Ruth and Hans are married and living in Weimar Berlin when Hitler is elected chancellor of Germany. Together with Dora and her lover, Ernst Toller, the celebrated poet and self-doubting revolutionary, the four become hunted outlaws overnight and are forced to flee to London. Inspired by the fearless Dora to breathtaking acts of courage, the friends risk betrayal and deceit as they dedicate themselves to a dangerous mission: to inform the British government of the very real Nazi threat to which it remains willfully blind. All That I Am is the heartbreaking story of these extraordinary people, who discover that Hitler’s reach extends much further than they had thought.

Gripping, compassionate, and inspiring, this remarkable debut novel reveals an uncommon depth of humanity and wisdom. Anna Funder has given us a searing and intimate portrait of courage and its price, of desire and ambition, and of the devastating consequences when they are thwarted.
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