Review Blog

Feb 05 2013

All That I Am by Anna Funder

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Penguin Books, 2011. ISBN 9780143567516.
(Age: Senior secondary - adult) All That I Am is an Australian multi-award winning novel. It doesn't wear its learning lightly. It tells an important story, based heavily on fact, about the emergence of Hitler; the terrifying reach of the Nazis inside Germany and further afield; and the refusal of Germany and other countries to recognise, let alone curb, evil. The characters are from history and fiction. Anna Funder uses the tools of the novelist to embellish the historical figures such as playwright Ernst Toller, particularly in the details of his everyday life, words and feelings. There is much information to impart, which can make the storytelling suffer, but the narrative devices of dual narrators assist this. There are two character narrators, but four voices. Ruth is an overlooked Jew who is glad she isn't beautiful because she can observe others without being looked at herself. She is married to handsome Hans and is Dora's cousin. We hear Ruth's voice as a young woman escaping from the Nazis and working for the Resistance in London. We also know her as an old woman living in Sydney. Toller is the other narrator. We hear his voice both during the turbulent events of the Nazi ascendancy and later, when he is rewriting his memoirs.
I wasn't immersed in the book until halfway through, possibly because of the changing voices. Once into the story, though, I was absorbed. It's an authorial dilemma - provide information through multiple narrators but risk not creating a strong enough character to ease the reader into the story. Probably the main character, certainly the heroine, is courageous, intelligent Dora Fabian - a historical figure, who devoted her life to making other aware of the truth.
Funder has wisely avoided the well-trodden paths of dwelling on the physical escapes from Germany, including Ruth's. She has a political and emotional focus.
As a supplement to modern history, this novel is very worthwhile; it's just a shame many students will find it difficult to access.
Joy Lawn

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