In Stasiland, Funder wrote a fantastic, revealing book about life beyond the Berlin Wall in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), focusing on the role of the Stasi, or secret police, and those who resisted them. I read Stasiland about three years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think I went into All That I Am expecting to be blown away again, so I was a little disappointed to find that I was struggling to get through the earlier sections.
It seems unfair, really, because the story being told in All That I Am is just as powerful and, at its root, just as compelling. It is based on real-life events, and uses a dual narrative, alternating between the characters of Ruth Becker/Wesemann and Ernst Toller, both of whom are politically leftist and opposed to the Nazi regime in Germany, which is slowly being cemented in the early 1930s. Toller is a big opposition figure, a powerful writer and vocal critic of the Nazis and Hitler. Ruth holds the same political views, but is what I thought of as the more 'real' character - normal, unremarkable, caught up in work that she believes is right, and believes is worth risking her own survival for. Toller and Ruth are linked by Ruth's vibrant cousin Dora Fabian, who is full of conviction and a determination to show the world what is really happening in Germany - and how this ultimately threatens the rest of Europe and the world. Dora is really the main character here, yet can only be seen through the eyes of the two who love her best - never quite grasped, as in life.
The book begins in Germany and moves eventually to Britain, where the characters are exiled after being expelled from their home country. They continue their resistance efforts and Hitler gains more power within Germany and more influence outside of Germany. Part of the book occurs in flashback, as both Toller and Ruth strive to remember and record the past before it is too late.
The book began in a promising way, and ended on a powerful note. The last quarter of the book was particularly compelling, and when I finished I was left re-evaluating the rest of the book, wondering why I had faltered a little bit in the middle. I think my main problem was I kept getting Toller and Hans confused - they are very different characters, but neither seemed to have a distinctive voice, and sometimes I would mix the two of them up, or conflate their characters. I much preferred Ruth's chapters, which often began with her current life in Australia as an old woman, before reverting back to her days in London.
Funder captured the atmosphere of fear and distrust really well, and it was interesting to see characters interacting who were both untrusting of each other, yet forced to trust through circumstance. This is the second book this year that I have read that deals with pre-WWII Germany (the other being Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin) and it was interesting to see both the similarities - the gradual political changes, the realities of violence and brutality being covered up - and the differences, as All That I Am focuses much more closely on the politics and the personal sacrifices made by those who tried desperately to warn the world of what was coming.
Overall rating: 7/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.
This review counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.