Combined Reviews: All That I Am by Anna Funder

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all_that_i_am.jpg    All That I Am
Anna Funder

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
The gripping first novel by Anna Funder, the acclaimed author of Stasiland, based on a true story. All That I Am, is moving and beautifully written, equal parts a love story, thriller and testament to individual heroism. It evokes books like Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, Bernard Schlink's The Reader and William Boyd's Restless - intelligent, powerful novels that appeal to a wide audience.

'When Hitler came to power I was in the bath. The wireless in the living room was turned up loud, but all that drifted down to me were waves of happy cheering, like a football match. It was Monday afternoon . . . '

Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past - and a part of history that has been all but forgotten.

Another lifetime away, it's 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life.

When Toller's story arrives on Ruth's doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she's right back among them - those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested - and in some cases found wanting - in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history.

Based on real people and events, All That I Am is a masterful and exhilarating exploration of bravery and betrayal, of the risks and sacrifices some people make for their beliefs, and of heroism hidden in the most unexpected places. Anna Funder confirms her place as one of our finest writers with this gripping, compassionate, inspiring first novel.


Rachel Cusk in "The Guardian": "Anna Funder's first book, Stasiland, was a work of great originality and interest. An account of life in the former German Democratic Republic, it sought to delineate individual and national states of being in the wake of the trauma of totalitarianism, and particularly to inquire into the mental state of a society that has suffered an absolute loss of faith in personal morality...There will, of course, be many readers for whom a remarkable story told with clarity and precision, along with the moments of insight and literary grace that couldn't not occur in Funder's writing, will be a very welcome pleasure."

Joanna Kavenna in "The Observer": "Funder's prose is clear, easy to read, scrupulously lacking in stylistic idiosyncrasies...Clever, intriguing, incoherent, All That I Am is cinematographic pseudo-realism, a studiously researched fantasy about the past that stages an almost self-annihilating debate about reconstruction."

Rachel Hore in "The Independent": "The Australian writer Anna Funder follows her Samuel Johnson Prize-winning Stasiland with a novel challenging the frontiers between historical fact and the creative imagination...Funder became a friend of the real-life Ruth Wesemann in Ruth's later years in Sydney, and her notes on sources indicate how closely she's tried to base the novel on what is known. At the same time, the book is far more than "faction"; she has successfully transformed the material into a narrative of individual endeavour and survival, that examines universal human themes."

David Marr in "The Monthly": "Though set in an earlier time and in a different struggle, All That I Am takes us back to the territory of Stasiland (2003), Funder's brilliantly successful account of the turncoat regime of East Germany. In both books - one fact and one a kind of fiction - moral strength is her core concern: the strength it takes to refuse to fall in with an evil and apparently triumphant regime. She knows how little it takes to fail. Being wanted, being useful, can be temptation enough...Funder's prose has a clarity that's at times arresting. In language of admirable simplicity she explores the shadowy ambiguities lurking in her characters - ambiguities that have always fascinated her: the good that comes with bad and the bad with good."

David Sornig in "The Adelaide Review": "Between Stasiland and All That I Am Funder asks an important question about how we tell stories of other people's moral courage: how can an author properly navigate the line between invention and truth? The famously cool reception of Stasiland in Germany, particularly in East Germany, revealed some anxiety about Funder's own answer...In All That I Am, Funder achieves the right balance between truth and invention to pay tribute to those people who tried to get the message out about what shape the future would take under Hitler. That their warnings were ignored for so long was a tragedy, one that we ignore at our own peril. Funder reminds us of this truth with certainty and moral force."


Anna Funder in conversation on Slow TV.

Catherine Kennan in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Jonathan Derbyshire in "New Statesman".

Ridhcard Fidler on ABC Radio [audio].


Anna Funder discusses the novel on Youtube.

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1 Comment

In my far-distant youth I lived at Bondi. While travelling on the local buses I used to look at the Jewish people and wonder if they had come from the terrors in Europe, even though I was really too young to understand what they may have been through.

Funder's story brought it all home to me in the character of Ruth Becker, even more so that the fictional Ruth is based on an actual person. This is an agonisingly real story that had me engrossed from first page to last and left me full of admiration and thankfulness for those who stand up against evil in any context.

'Stasiland' is even more frightening for being factual and inspired the same sentiments in me as did the novel.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 26, 2012 7:14 AM.

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