Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada
by Lily Wren
This is the third book that I’ve read which has been written by Fallada 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.
(Model: My cat Rosie)
The couple is clearly in love but lacking in funds. However, they somehow manage to work through the hardships they face with dignity, humour and the view that something good will happen sometime 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 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.