Hans Fallada’s self-lacerating, autobiographical novel gives us a German businessman who discovers an affinity for alcohol in the wake of a minor family mishap. Soon drink comes to rule his life, and he gives himself over to it eagerly—so eagerly he finds himself sliding quickly into crime, embezzling from his own family, and ends up in prison for a near-assault on his wife (this was what befell Fallada in real life). He finds even worse things awaiting him after that: confinement in a mental asylum, where even the minimal dignities he found in prison are gone.
The book’s unevenly paced and sometimes meandering, but some of that might be due to the circumstances of its creation: Fallada wrote it while in a Nazi-run insane asylum, under the pretext of writing a propaganda novel for Goebbels. Given that, it’s amazing anything coherent emerged at all, let alone this sardonic and grim story of a man eyeing the world around him and seeing nothing but one good reason after another to give into his baser nature.
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