The first English translation of Fallada's 1947 novel. The story of a man, Dr Doll, and his wife, who are taking shelter in the German countryside, haunted by nightmarish images at night, when the Russians invade. They return to Berlin after the end of the war, and attempt to resume their lives, but confronting the reality of life in the devastated city, they fall into morphine addiction.
A compressed epic of despair, venality, shame, and endurance, this 'strong book about a weak human being,' like most Fallada novels, mirrors its author’s travails ... The novel is driven by these surges of emotion, but Fallada keeps our gaze on everyday details, on petty betrayals and intimate crimes ... Fallada’s corrosive wit — used sparingly in this novel and to devastating effect — is oddly affecting. It draws us closer to these characters even as they surrender to the oblivion of morphine or to the macabre regimen of the sanatorium ... Life goes on, always, he concludes. But Fallada’s tightly constructed novel — a snug nesting doll of horror within horror — makes even that bland assertion seem foolish.
In Nightmare, Fallada is particularly adept at depicting the careworn lives of ordinary Germans with all their contradictory prejudices and occasional glimmers of kindness. Indeed, the novel plugs a vital a gap in its portrayal of a period — April 1945 to July 1946 — that is largely absent in postwar German literature ... Ultimately Nightmare in Berlin actually reveals that Doll is not quite as alone as he imagines. He too has his champions among German publishers who are prepared to wait as long as it takes before he recovers his nerve and writes again. Fallada’s own achievement of completing Alone in Berlin and Nightmare in Berlin just months before he died of heart failure in 1947 aged 53 cannot be underestimated. Here was a writer whose courage was to stay behind and turn his suffering and the suffering of others into extra-ordinary literature.
The book has a terrible hallucinatory quality – people arrive and disappear, offer help or resistance for no reason – which partly reflects the huge amounts of drugs and alcohol being taken by all involved ... The always tremendously punchy Fallada style sweeps the reader along; the murk and hysteria and chaos are (just about) contained. Not contained in this translation, however, which is careless to the point of the amateurish. The translator, Allan Blunden, has a tin ear for register, and some of Fallada’s most direct and concise slaps come out completely wrong.