12+ Award-winning Australian author Anna Funder discussed her 2003 bestseller Stasiland on the Better Reading podcast in February 2019. Having visited Berlin in 1987 and 1995, her book on the East German secret police piqued my interest. It wasn't on the shelf at my local bookshop, but I did find All That I Am.
As I confessed in The Man Behind The Woman in the Window blog post, I'm a sucker for book covers and first sentences. And I post a series with the hashtags #bookcovers / #firstsentences on Instagram (as @tallandtruebooks).
Plucking All That I Am from the shelf and reading the opening line reminded me why I love a good first sentence:
When Hitler came to power I was in the bath.
Wow, this was a book I had to read. But I had many other books to read at the time, so I added it to my bedside pile.
The Perfect Opportunity
Six months later, I set off on a self-drive campervan holiday in Australia's Top End. Twelve days, 1500 kilometres, lots of sightseeing, and nothing to do in the evenings but read a book by the campfire. The perfect opportunity to finally get into All That I Am.
Funder wrote her 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award winner based on real events and people. She described it as "reconstructed from fossil fragments, much as you might draw skin and feathers over an assembly of dinosaur bones, to fully see the beast".
Set in the 1930s, a close-knit group of friends and lovers works to stop the rise of Nazis in Germany and, when exiled, to warn of the threat Hitler poses to the world.
The group includes Dora Fabian, her lover, the playwright Ernst Toller, Dora's younger cousin Ruth Becker, and Ruth's husband, Hans Wesemann.
With inventive timeshifts, Funder switches the storytelling between the voices of Ruth and Toller. Ruth is now in her nineties, living in Sydney, looking back on her long life. And Toller is in New York, in the months before the outbreak of war in Europe, reworking his memoir, I was a German.
Ultimately theirs is a tale of struggle, hope, betrayal and failure. But with Funder's trademark flair for writing and insight into the human condition, it's also a compelling portrayal of relationships, bravery and frailty.
A Resonance for Today
Published in 2012 and depicting events that led to fascism and world war seventy years ago, the resonance of All That I Am for today's political climate is disturbing. We should learn from Funder's account of the lurch to populism and nationalism and the disastrous consequences of appeasement.
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All That I Am proved perfect for reading by the campfire at night. And for sneaking off for a quiet read beside a creek towards the end of my campervan holiday. I highly recommend Anna Funder's book wherever you read it!
© 2019 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might like to read this blog post about another author and book that recently wowed me, Tim Winton Wows Again.
A dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months. And in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.