All That I Am: A Novel by Anna Funder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
There are three timelines in this book, which made it a little confusing to track who was where when. In one timeline, Ruth is living in modern day Australia at the end of a long life, but her memories of what happened in the 1920s-30s in Germany and London are starting to overtake her daily life. In another timeline, Ermst Toller is in 1939 New York, reflecting on the past decade or so in Germany and London. And finally you have what happened in Germany and London in the 20s-30s in Germany and London.
Ruth leaves her wealthy family to live in Berlin and hang out with her older cousin Dora; she meets journalist/satirist Hans and they fall in love and marry. Dora is a free, liberated woman agitating for things like abortion rights, and part of her freedom is to engage in "meaningless" love affairs, including one with Ernst Toller, a WWI hero, a Jew and a renowned playwright and poet. As members of the Independent Socialist Workers Party they are trying to reconcile the Communists and the Socialists to oppose the rise of the Nazis and much of the Berlin memories recount the rise of Hitler and his party: the thuggery, the arrests, the Reichstag fire and Hitler's power grab. They all manage to escape - without papers - to London, where they keep up their attempts to warn the world about what is going on in Germany. Dora is murdered by Nazis, poisoned in her bedroom in what appears to be a suicide; Hans becomes a Nazi informant, ultimately escaping to South America (Ruth thinks); Ernst's despair leads to his suicide in New York after having updated/annotated his memoir I Am A German; and Ruth manages to survive Hans' betrayal, the Nazis, internment in Singapore to make a life for herself before dying a natural death. Sadly, none of this added to my knowledge or understanding of the events leading up to the Nazi takeover, nor did it illuminate the lives of those Germans trying to prevent Hitler's rise.
Adding to the timeline confusion is the blend of fact and fiction. I don't mean just events, but with the exception of Ruth, the main characters are all real (there's a nice bibliography at the back for those interested in learning the real story of these people). So rather than fiction, this is more faction, important to keep in mind.
Copy provided by publisher.