Saturday, May 19, 2012

Australian Women Writers: Anna Funder's All That I Am

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

Anna Funder's All That I Am deserves it's place on the shortlist for the 2012 Miles Franklin award.

Her first novel, like her acclaimed non-fictional Stasiland, has a weighty theme with a bitter German flavour. At its heart is the life and death of radical activist Dora Fabian from the two narrators Ernst Toller and Ruth Becker/Wesemann. The first person chapter-about accounts chart their futile struggle in fighting the rise of Nazism between the world wars.
All that we are not stares back at all that we are.
Though many of the characters are based on real people, it is a work of the imagination rather than just an historical drama.

At its core the story is about love. The dominance of cousin Dora in Ruth’s life is balanced by Dora’s on-again off-again love affair with Toller. It’s politics as personal.
At the end of our lives it is our loves we remember most, because they are what shaped us. We have grown to be who we are around them, as around a stake.
I found the book hard to put down yet hard to write about. It compels us to confront many of the dark threads of the twentieth century: the horror of war and failure of the peace; the popularity of fascism and anti-Semitism; the complicity of many in the British ruling class and elsewhere; the brutal, calculated march by the Nazis to the final solution.

Also at its centre is the plight of German refugees from the Third Reich. Their attempts to warn the world of the impending tragedy were sometimes met with deportation. The disturbing question of why people choose to close their minds is one that resounds too loudly in our century.
It is not that people lack imagination. It is that they stop themselves using it. Because once you have imagined such suffering, how could you still do nothing.
This is not meant to be a review. There are numerous quality reviews online. The following interview with Anna Funder canvasses many aspects of the intersection between history and fiction, plus the writer’s art. Anna also talks about her friendship with the real life Ruth and her Australian connection.

We should pay tribute to people, like those in the novel, who stand up to the jackboot with ideas not weapons. Those who give all that they are.

As I was writing this learned that All That I Am has been awarded the Australian Book Industry Award for Book of the Year 2012.