Now that 30 stories in 30 days in finished I’ve finally had time to write some more reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I have recently read and now reviewed Anna Funder’s WWII historical fiction All That I Am, and Emily Bitto’s Stella Prize-winning novel set in the world of artists in 1930s Melbourne The Strays. Read the reviews below or on the Reviews page, and they are also linked to the AWWC website.
Anna Funder’s All That I Am is a multi-person account of Hitler’s coming to power in Germany 1933. It is told from two perspectives; the first is that of Ruth Becker, a woman in her seventies living in Sydney and looking back on her life during the war in Berlin and then as a refugee in London. Alternate chapters are told from the point of view of the German playwright and activist Ernst Toller living in New York before the end of the war, as he recalls the life of his lover Dora, Ruth’s cousin, and their work together. Dora is at the heart of this story, her life, work and personality as remembered by Ruth and Ernst as they look back on the past. Both Ruth and Ernst loved her greatly and were involved in different aspects of her life, but they both the recall the same period of the war in relation to Dora and the work they all did together.
Ruth’s story covers her life in modern-day Sydney as a retired English professor with rapidly declining health. As her life winds down she remembers the decadent but terrifying days in Berlin leading up to Hitler’s rise of power, and she remembers the work that she, her husband Hans, Dora, Ernst and various other friends and relatives did to awaken Germany to Hitler’s true intentions and secret works. When Ruth, Hans and Dora escape to London as refugees they each deal with it in different ways: Ruth absorbs herself in photography and volunteering; Dora undertakes huge amounts of work advocating for other refugees and does everything in her power to alert the British to Hitler’s atrocities as they grow in number and boldness in Germany and Europe; and Hans finds it very difficult to adjust, eventually embroiling himself in something that he cannot escape from.
This work is immaculately written, the kind of book that a reader becomes so absorbed in they forget they are even reading it. The characters are vivid, intense and heartbreaking, the historical accuracy flawless, and the execution of the plot intricate and immaculate. Funder’s historical research to create this novel is incredible, and most of the characters are either real historical figures or based on real people who lived through these events.
In short, there is nothing about this novel that doesn’t work, and it is the perfect book to become completely absorbed in and renewed by.