Hans Fallada was born Rudolph Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen (21.7.1893) in Greifswald, Germany. His father was a magistrate, who would soon become a supreme court judge and his mother was from a solid middle-class background. In 1899 the family relocated to Berlin following the first of several promotions his father received. 1901 saw Fallada entering his first school, which was not a success and lead to the child burying himself in books, eschewing literature more in line with his age for authors such as Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. By 1909 the family once more relocated, this time to Leipzig, following his father's appointment to the Imperial Supreme Court. A road accident in 1909, followed by the contraction of typhoid in 1910 marked a major turning point in the now 17 year old Fallada’s life and was also where the life-long drug problems were born - due to the pain killing medication he needed for his injuries. The end result of this was several botched suicide attempts culminating in the death of his close friend (Hanns Dietrich), this time disguised as a duel, because it was considered a more honourable death. This was somehow bungled with Fallada surviving. . Nonetheless, the death of his friend ensured his status as an outcast from society. Although he was found innocent of murder by way of insanity, from this point on he would serve multiple stints in mental institutions.
Whilst in a sanatorium he started writing poetry & also tried his hand at translation, without much success, before finally hitting his stride as a writer, with the publication of his first novel, Der junge Goedeschal (Young Goedeschal) in 1920. During this period he lost his younger brother in the First World War, and was he also struggling with morphine addiction.
Which brings me to the Short Treatise on the Joys of Morphinism by Hans Fallada, this wonderful little book by Penguin (Mini Modern Classic) contains two stories – the title tale and Three Years of Life, both published in English for the very first time*. Both draw heavily on the writers own history of addiction – in the first story we follow the protagonist, who has one obsession that being his next hit, everything is subservient to that desire, there is no friendship, no relationship that doesn’t have it’s roots in the feeding of the addiction, every second, every nanosecond is a slave to that one impulse.
“I knew I had to have morphine at any price. My whole body was painfully jittery, my hands shook, I was full of a crazed thirst, not just in my mouth and throat, but in every cell of my body.
I picked up the telephone and called Wolf. I wanted to catch him off-guard, so, with a faltering voice, I croaked out: “Have you got any benzene? Hurry! I’m dying!”
And fell back on to the pillows, groaning. A deep and solemn relief.”
Wolf is the closest thing the hero(?) of this tale, has to a friend, not counting the drug itself and yet his sole purpose is as a conduit to more highs, this is understood by both the individuals in this relationship.
In the second tale “Three Years of Life” the narrator (Hans Fallada) has reached an impasse in the way his life has gone, completely disenchanted, he knows things can’t go on. This doesn’t stop him downing half a pint of cognac before proceeding with his plan to embezzle his employer of twelve thousand marks before what seems like a failed attempt to escape his addiction…
“I walk out of on the street, to the station. More train rattle. My flight begins. Hamburg. Most of the day asleep. At night St Pauli. Then following morning I fly to Berlin. Let them come for me. After that, Munich, Leipzig, Dresden, Cologne.
Always the same scenario: the poison won’t let me go. I am unable to eat at all. Sleep – what passes for sleep – is a vividly tormenting blackout”
Eventually the money runs out and he hands himself into a police station, followed by a comic attempt to get himself arrested, before prison and the DT’s* or bedbugs I’m never quite sure which, we then watch him replace one addiction for another (tobacco) which we then learn all about, as well as the codes of practice in prison.
In this fantastic work of autofiction, Hans Fallada, paints a darkly comic surreal world where everything is reduced to a simple impulse – to feed ones addiction, all else is subsidiary.
About the life and work of Hans Fallada(A fantastic Resource)
Poet and translator Michael Hofmann was born in Freiburg, West Germany in 1957.The son of the German novelist Gert Hofmann, his translation of his father's novel The Film Explainer won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1995. He grew up in England and attended schools in Edinburgh and Winchester. He read English Literature and Classics at Magdalene College, Oxford, and studied as a postgraduate at the University of Regensburg and Trinity College, Cambridge from 1979 to 1983. Since 1983 he has worked as a freelance writer, translator and reviewer. for more information check out the links below..
* Both were first published posthumously in German, in the form translated here, in 1997 under the title Drei Jahre Kein Mensch: Erlebtes, Erfahrenes, Erfundenes. This English translation is by Michael Hofmann.
* Delirium Tremens - An acute, sometimes fatal episode of delirium that is usually caused by withdrawal or abstinence from alcohol following habitual excessive drinking and that is characterized by sweating, trembling, anxiety, confusion, and hallucinations.