Title: All that I am
Author: Anna Funder
This is another saga in the long list of Holocaust novels that chronicles the tragic history of human genocide. This novel is based on real events and real people and has an intriguing structure which shifts back and forth through time and characters.
The story is set now in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, which is beautifully evoked, the character Ruth Becker is an elderly ex-teacher of German/Jewish background who is portrayed as feisty but benign, a real survivor. There is a humanity to Ruth who is portrayed as stoic, bravely facing the rigours of frailty and age, but thankful nevertheless for her survival.
The powerful and poignant core to this story occurs during the period Ruth and her friends lived in theUK as refugees having fled from the excesses of Nazi Germany. It is in pre WW2 London that the mystery implicit in this story unfolds. The depiction of the plight of European refugees in England during WW2 echoes the suspicion and bigotry that refugees invoke, even in today’s so called enlightened times.
The pivotal characters in Ruth’s story are Ernst Toller, an idealist and poet whose memoir awakens the war-time memories that Ruth has deliberately suppressed, and the mystery surrounding the death of her dynamic political activist cousin Dora Fabian. The narrative implies that Dora was murdered by Nazi operatives working illegally in London pre WW2. At the inquest into Dora’s death the British authorities turn a blind eye to the foul play that has ensured. Dora’s story illustrates the point that young idealistic people are always the victims of war and that countless millions have needlessly lost their lives in these conflicts.
The story is so much more than just a re-telling of history , it is also imaginative and witty and a timely reminder that it is never OK to ride rough-shod over the human rights of others at any time in history or in any part of the world.