A little piece in this week's Bookseller (18 June, p. 15) charts the UK success of Hans Fallada (real name Rudolf Ditzen)'s 1947 novel Alone in Berlin. The novel was translated into English by Michael Hofmann and pubilshed just over a year ago in this country; now, thanks to support from Waterstones and independent bookshops, as well as "word of mouth" (for example, on that excellent blog Crime Scraps), this anti-Nazi novel has sold bout 75,000 copies in the UK. In the last week of May, its week-on-week sales increased by 325 %, from about 2,000 to about 7,900 copies. (In the Bookseller column is a graph depicting sales since January 2009 to June 2010.)
None other than Primo Levi has written that Alone in Berlin is "the greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis"; the novel was discussed recently on the TV programme Newsnight by Anthony Beevor and Jeremy Paxman; and reviewers such as Ben Macniture and Philip Henschler have called it "beautiful". The book has been widely reviewed, for example in newspapers by The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian; on websites, for example Euro Crime; and on many blogs including Reading Matters and The View from the Blue House. I do not really want to link to the just-released Independent's 2010 guide to "50 great summer reads" because of its awful layout – one has to click through clunkily 50 times, once each book by its order in some obscure Independent order (i.e. not alphabetical), with no listing or search – and when you get there all you get is the cover of the book and a brief phrase about it. Shocking – talk about advertising-led. However, Alone in Berlin is there, at number 13 - which will also help sales if anyone can be bothered to laboriously click through.
One thing I don't appreciate about the novel is that the paperback is priced at £9.99. At the moment, it is available on a "buy two get one free" offer at Waterstones, and a "buy one get one at half price" at W H Smiths. On Amazon, you don't have to bundle it with anything else and can get it for £4.96, a bit more like it for a paperback. What is Penguin, the publisher, playing at, though, charging a penny short of £10 for a standard-format paperback (admittedly with 600 pages)? Ridiculous, especially as the author himself isn't making anything out of the deal.
In related news, another novel by Fallada, Wolf Among Wolves, is published in the UK this week (Melville House), according to Saturday's Times (brief on p. 11). First published in Germany in 1937, this "enormous saga" (also paperback – justifying its price of £13.99 given its 816 pages, no doubt) looks back to the rampant inflation of the early 1920s. The German economy is in ruins and the streets are full of unemployed soldiers. One former soldier tries to support himself and his girlfriend by playing roulette, while "prices climb and the day's food depends on how far the mark has fallen." The Times's Kate Saunders calls it "an unmissably brilliant portrait of Berlin before the Nazis" – the translation is by Thorsten Carstensen and Nicholas Jacobs, based on an incomplete 1930s translation by Philip Owens.