All That I Am is the first novel by Anna Funder. It tells the story of a group of German political activists in the period between Hitler’s coming to power and the beginning of the Second World War. Thankfully it is not like the other books set around the Second World War regime. By that I mean that while it is dank in certain places, it isn’t a gloomy book overall. There are times when you will be moved and there will be times when the irony might make you smile as well.
The book has two narrators: Ruth Becker, looking back as an old woman about the times, in Sydney, and the playwright Ernest Toller, taking stock of his life in a New York hotel room in 1939.
All That I Am writes about the political activities that were carried out before the Second World War and how did the common man react to them. The story is about the rise of a few Germans against the Nazi dominance. It is about the people living in the shadows. Funder bravely merges fiction with facts, following the lives of real people who fought Nazism. Ruth Becker is a real person who Anna befriended in Australia and decided to work on the novel.
All That I Am is painstakingly researched. The characters are vividly alive and the novel is rich in its scope and intelligence. The era is brought out in compelling detail – the decadent night clubs, London in the 30’s, German refugees being provided asylum, and Hitler’s plan for a war has been laid out very well.
Funder’s novel is beyond a reconstructed set of events. Everything in the book radiated humanity to me and that’s the best part of reading this kind of a book. All That I Am may not be a best read for me this year; it would definitely feature as one of the best.