|Hans Fallada was the child of a magistrate on his way to becoming a supreme court judge and a mother from a middle-class background, both of whom shared an enthusiasm for music, and to a lesser extent, literature. |
A severe road accident in 1909 (age 16)—he was run over by a horse-drawn cart, then kicked in the face by the horse—and the contraction of typhoid in 1910 (age 17) seem to mark a turning point in Fallada's life and the end of his relatively care-free youth. His adolescent years were characterized by increasing isolation and self-doubt, compounded by the lingering effects of these ailments. In addition, his life-long drug problems were born of the pain-killing medications he was taking as the result of his injuries. These issues manifested themselves in multiple suicide attempts. In 1911 he made a pact with his close friend, Hanns Dietrich, to stage a duel to mask their suicides, feeling that the duel would be seen as more honorable. Because of both boys' inexperience with weapons, it was a bungled affair. Dietrich missed Fallada, but Fallada did not miss Dietrich, killing him. Fallada was so distraught that he picked up Dietrich's gun and shot himself in the chest, but somehow survived. 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.
While in a sanatorium Fallada took to translation and poetry, albeit unsuccessfully, before finally breaking ground as a novelist in 1920 with the publication of his first book YOUNG GOEDESCHAL. During this period he also struggled with morphine addiction, and the death of his younger brother in the First World War.
In the wake of the war, Fallada worked at several farmhand and other agricultural jobs in order to support himself and finance his growing drug addiction. While before the war Fallada relied on his father for financial support while writing, after the German defeat he was no longer able, or willing, to depend on his father's assistance. Shortly after the publication of his second novel, Fallada went to prison to serve a 6-month sentence for stealing grain from his employer and selling it to support his drug habit. Less than 3 years later, in 1926, Fallada again found himself imprisoned as a result of a drug and alcohol-fueled string of thefts from employers. In February 1928 he finally emerged free of addiction.
Fallada married Suse Issel in 1929 and maintained a string of respectable jobs in journalism, working for newspapers and eventually for the publisher of his novels.
The great success of his next novel, LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? in 1932, while immediately easing his financial straits, was overshadowed by his anxiety over the rise of Nazism and a subsequent nervous breakdown. Although none of his work was deemed subversive enough to warrant action by the Nazis, many of his peers were arrested and interned, and his future as an author under the Nazi regime looked bleak. These anxieties were compounded by the loss of a baby only a few hours after childbirth. However he was heartened by the great success of LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? in Great Britain and the United States, where the book was a bestseller. In the U.S., it was selected by the Book of the Month Club, and was even made into a Hollywood movie, LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? (1934).
Because the film was made by Jewish producers, however, it earned Fallada closer attention by the rising Nazi Party. Meanwhile, as the careers, and in some cases the lives, of many of Fallada's contemporaries were rapidly drawing to a halt, he began to draw some additional scrutiny from the government in the form of denunciations of his work by Nazi authors and publications, who also noted that he had not joined the Party. On Easter Sunday, 1933, he was jailed by the Gestapo for "anti-Nazi activities" after one such denunciation, but despite a ransacking of his home no evidence was found and he was released a week later.
In September 1935 Fallada was officially declared an "undesirable author", a designation that banned his work from being translated and published abroad. Although this order was repealed a few months later, it was as this point that his writing shifted from an artistic endeavor to merely a much needed source of income, writing "children's stories and harmless fairy tales" that would also conveniently avoid the unwanted attention of the Nazis. During this time the prospect of emigration held a constant place in Fallada's mind, although he was reluctant because of his love of Germany.
In 1944, although their divorce was already finalized, a drunk Fallada and his wife were involved in an altercation in which a shot was fired by Fallada. According to Suse Ditzen, she took the gun from her husband and hit him over the head with it before calling the police, who confined him to a psychiatric institution. Throughout this period Fallada had one thing to cling to: the project he had concocted to put off Goebbels's demands that he write an anti-Semitic novel, which involved the novelization of "a famous fraud case involving two Jewish financiers in the nineteen twenties" which, because of its potential as propaganda, was supported by the government and had eased pressure on him as he worked on other, more sincere projects. Finding himself incarcerated in a Nazi insane asylum, he used this project as a pretext for obtaining paper and writing materials, saying he had an assignment to fulfill from Goebbels's office, which successfully forestalled more harsh treatment (the insane were regularly subject to barbarous treatment by the Nazis, including physical abuse, sterilization, and even death). But rather than writing the anti-Jewish novel, Fallada actually used his allotment of paper to write — in a dense, overlapping script that acted to encode the text — the novel THE DRINKER, a deeply critical autobiographical account of life under the Nazis. It was an act easily punishable by death, but he was not caught, and was released in December 1944 as the Nazi government began to crumble.
Despite a seemingly successful reconciliation with his first wife, he went on to marry the young, wealthy and attractive widow Ulla Losch only a few months after his release and moved in with her in Feldberg. Shortly after, the Soviets invaded and began to restore order. Fallada, as a celebrity, was asked to give a speech at a ceremony to celebrate the end of the war. Following this speech, he was appointed interim mayor of Feldberg for 18 months.
The time in the mental institution had taken a toll on Fallada, and, deeply depressed by the seemingly impossible task of eradicating the vestiges of fascism that were now so deeply ingrained in society from the Nazi regime, he once again turned to morphine with his wife, and both soon ended up in hospital. The brief remainder of his life was spent in and out of hospitals and wards. Losch's addiction to Morphine appears to have been even worse than Fallada's, and her constantly mounting debts were also a source of concern.
At the time of Fallada's death in February 1947, he had recently completed EVERY MAN DIES ALONE (published in the UK as ALONE IN BERLIN), an anti-fascist novel based on a true story of a German couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who were executed for producing and distributing anti-fascist material in Berlin during the war. He died just weeks before its publication.
After Fallada's death, because of possible neglect and continuing addiction on the part of his second wife and sole heir, many of his unpublished works were lost or sold. Fallada remained a popular writer in Germany after his death. But, although LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? had been a great success in the United States and the UK, outside of Germany Fallada faded into obscurity for decades, until American publisher Melville House Publishing reissued several Fallada titles in 2009.