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Iron Gustav


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Iron Gustav by Hans Fallada, translated by Philip Owens, completed by Nicholas Jacobs and Gardis Cramer Von Laue


Firstly  a note on the financing of the original novel (courtesy of the interesting introduction to the novel by jenny Williams). It was originally financed by the Nazi government as a propaganda work with intention of adapting it into a film for propaganda purposes. The original version of the novel by Fallada had displaced the Nazis and alot of censoring took place to make it into the propaganda piece they wanted. This translation is based on the original draft, which was helped to be recreated thanks to the 1940 british translation by Philip Owens. This makes an important point of the value of translations particularly where there is a totalitarian government which supresses the freedom of the people. With out the 1940 translation by Owens, could this edition have seen the light of day or would too much have been lost through the Nazis. After the original draft, Goebbels viewed Fallada as a writer hostile to the Nazis and the British publisher had gone to organise the evacuation of Fallada and his family in 1938 but Fallada at the last minute decided against it. The other Fallada novel I have read so far was Alone in Berlin which was financed by the Soviet government as a propaganda piece against the Nazis.


Anyway that aside, the novel starts with the news of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Gustav is the owner of a successful horse drawn carriage taxi company and the stern patriarch of the Hackendahl family. He and his wife have 5 children, Erich, Heinz, Eva, Sophie and Otto. With the advent of the war, Otto and Erich are both enlisted though Erich through a connection has a cushy position in Lille in an office. Sophie is a nurse, Heinz despite being too young wants to fight  much to the credulous response of Gustav that the army doesn't need a marching boy leading the procession to war.


When I started the novel I expected that Gustav would not be a likeable character, not a sympathethic character and certainly in the early sections of it, this rings through but as the novel goes on, this changes and I became to care for it. One particular instance as motor cars take off and his business hits very hard times, this part sticks in my mind 15 months after I read it, that the hardest thing about the difficulty for Gustav being that at the end of the working day, driving the horse carriage, coming home without anything to give to his wife, that the difficulty isn't a day with nothing to show but to have nothing to give the woman he loves, that instant is a part of the strength of Fallada's writing.


There is a lot to this novel and despite being 586 pages long, there is no drag in it, no part of it felt to me to be overwritten and the dialogue by Fallada is superb throughout the novel. Keep in mind as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this was intended to be adapted for film and so Fallada had borne this in mind as he was writing.


The novel goes through World War I and then years following the hard depression that had hit Germany in the aftermath. Through the difficulties of the time, Heinz represents a perfect antidote to Gustav, a very complimentary character.


This was an excellent book and I should have done a review of it earlier like last year when I finished it instead of waiting to now. I look forward to reading more Fallada with A Small Circus the next of his novel




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