I wanted to love this book, really, I did. It had nothing to do with Miles or Franklin, it was just a feeling that I had. I thought I would love this book, I knew I would love it… And I still can’t quite fathom why I didn’t.
It could be Elliot Perlman’s fault. Really, he destroyed me and I am quite comfortable giving him at least some of the blame. But, it was more than just the awesome standard that Perlman set for my expectations of post-post-modern Holocaust fiction … or is it faction?
There was something missing from Funder’s narrative, something that failed to grasp me or grip me or grate at me. Her characters had a haphazard quality about them which I can understand might have been intentional in order to reflect the chaos of the time. The book is, after all, set in Germany in the 1930s and describes Hitler’s rise to power and the impact that it had on the very essence of German society. But, while writers like Zusak managed to so carefully convey the intensity of this time from a personal and psychological or psycho-sociological perspective and Perlman’s narrative so magnificently brought to life the terror of the period, Funder’s All That I Am did neither for me. Rather, it flittered and fluttered about, almost dancing through things, interspersed with some passionate interludes and the impossibility of relationships fraught with overt political nuances. It provided insight into its context from a very particular lens, one to which I simply did not relate. Now, this could well be me, my defect. But I really really really wanted to love this book.
It is not often that I find myself wanting to abandon a book and I did indeed have that feeling during the first half of this book. It seemed quite pointless to me – I wanted to hear more from Ruth, to know more about her past and that was more of a outer concern for Funder at the beginning. Ruth was real for me, in contrast to the other characters who seemed somehow beyond any sense of reality that I know. The second half of the tome was redeeming and I found myself enjoying some of the story. It is because of this second part that I am glad I read the book, largely because I learned something new about the early 1930s in Germany. Funder’s book led me to read further about some of her characters – Toller in particular.
Perhaps if I had not had such high expectations I would not be so disappointed with this book.
Perhaps I should indeed just blame Perlman …