All That I Am

Anna Funder

All That I Am
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All That I Am

Anna Funder

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’s award-winning Stasiland remains one of the most profoundly moving books I have read. It revealed an intensely shocking, sinister episode in German history – but more importantly, it demonstrated the very real impact politics and corruption have on ordinary lives.

In her latest book, ‘a novel’, Funder’s majestic journalistic capabilities delve into an intoxicating period in Berlin, just before and immediately after Hitler’s election to power. She invokes that permissive, sophisticated era of Berlin between the wars with the same frenetic pace of Christopher Isherwood. This is where Ernst Toller, expressionist playwright, World War I veteran and political prisoner, meets two young women, Dora and Ruth, and their lives irrevocably intertwine. Young intellectuals and artists discuss politics and philosophy through a haze of smoke; they meet in clubs where they converse with one another between booths by telephone and finally they meet in exile, in bedsits, impoverished and powerless, to mobilise against the Nazi party. Dora is a powerful character, both on the page and in her impact on the lives of others. She wears her hair defiantly bobbed, is often in trousers and believes in giving love freely, but suffers greatly from her ideology – the world wasn’t ready for her, but she is the glue that binds this novel.

Many years later, Toller is completely paralysed by his realisation of the depth of his love for Dora. He is dictating his memoirs in a hotel room in New York to a kind young woman, Clara. Unwilling to leave his hotel room and unable to pay his hotel bill, he remembers his life to her in fragments before it becomes too painful to bear. Both his life and Dora’s are connected to Ruth and it is through her eyes, both as a young woman and as an elderly retired school teacher, that most of the novel is told. Funder writes beautifully, with a telling sensitivity towards her characters that makes her novel an exceptional meditation on politics, loss and memory.

Justine Douglas is from Readings Port Melbourne

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