Tales from the Underworld by Hans Fallada (Translated by Michael Hofmann) - review by Ben Hutchinson

Ben Hutchinson


Tales from the Underworld


Penguin 305pp £9.99

The rediscovery of Hans Fallada in the English-speaking world provides an intriguing case study of retrospective canon formation. After a troubled, unsettled life shaped in turns by morphine, alcohol, prison, suicide attempts and sheer bad luck, Rudolf Ditzen (Hans Fallada was a pen name taken from the Brothers Grimm) died in obscurity in 1947. While he remained an established name in Germany after his death – a ten-volume edition of his selected works began appearing in 1962 – it was with the astonishing international reception of Michael Hofmann’s translation of Alone in Berlin (2009) that Fallada abruptly became fashionable again. Scenting success, Penguin published a version of another novel, A Small Circus, by the same translator in 2012; two years later, they have issued a collection of short stories under the title Tales from the Underworld. Suddenly, Fallada is a ‘modern classic’.

That the titles of all three of these books are latter-day constructs is indicative of the manner in which Fallada has been ‘launched’ on the literary market. Translated literally, the original German names of the two novels published by Penguin – ‘Everyone Dies Alone’ and ‘Farmers, Functionaries, and Fireworks’ –

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter