Oppermanns, The

Persephone Number 136

Author(s): Lion Feuchtwanger
ISBN13/Barcode: 9781910263266
PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

Persephone Book No. 136 is a 1933 novel written to alert the world to the dangers of fascism. When we first made efforts to republish it, the dangers of modern-day fascism were at the forefront of all our minds and we thought that the republication 85 years later of this great German novel would be eye-opening. Now the world has hugely changed. Yet although our preoccupations and expectations, the norms of daily life indeed, have been turned upside down in just a few weeks, yet the dangers of fascism, and in fact a dictator, have not gone away: they are just dormant.

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Persephone Book No. 136 is a 1933 novel written to alert the world to the dangers of fascism. When we first made efforts to republish it, the dangers of modern-day fascism were at the forefront of all our minds and we thought that the republication 85 years later of this great German novel would be eye-opening. Now the world has hugely changed. Yet although our preoccupations and expectations, the norms of daily life indeed, have been turned upside down in just a few weeks, yet the dangers of fascism, and in fact a dictator, have not gone away: they are just dormant.

In one sense The Oppermanns was written as purest propaganda, in another it is ‘very far from being a work of propoganda’ (writes Professor Richard Evans in his Foreword) but ‘achieves its effect not least because it uses the various members of the family, their friends, and the people with whom they come into contact, to paint a realistic and convincing portrait of the variety of Germans’ reactions to the rise and eventual triumph of the Nazis... Lion Feuchtwanger’s human sympathies enabled him to understand, and to make the reader understand, the motives even of the most despicable characters. He grasped, for example, the resentments that drove small craftsmen in Germany into the Nazi movement.’

The idea for the novel was initially that of the British prime minster Ramsay MacDonald. He knew Lion Feuchtwanger (who was already one of Germany’s best-known writers) and wrote to him in April 1933: Lion was by now in exile in France, his books having been burnt by the Nazis. MacDonald suggested a film alerting the world to the Nazi threat and, in May, Lion and the young screen- writer Sidney Gilliat completed a script. Then the film was cancelled; Lion, however, decided to turn the script into a novel.

The Oppermanns describes an affluent Jewish family, and in particular three brothers, who run a successful chain of furniture shops, for eight months from the autumn of 1932 until June 1933. The reader watches in horror as a law-abiding, kindly, civilised Jewish family, a close-knit group of siblings, is gradually dispossessed of all their certainties, of everything they had owned, of their life, of their happiness – just because they were Jewish. We watch as Jews are beaten in the street and thrown into concentration camps (yes, they existed in early 1933). And yet the world did nothing. Eventually one of the brothers, who had fled to France, decides to resist, and the bittersweet ending is faintly optimistic because, as Richard Evans writes: ’Feuchtwanger could not know in 1933 that the resistance would crumble under the weight of Nazi terror, nor did he even suspect that the Nazis’ violence against the Jews would end in the deliberate murder of six million people in the Holocaust. No civilised person could imagine that genocide on this scale could take place in Europe in the twentieth century.’

People often ask us how we find our books and the answer this time is: last June the journalist Nilanjana S Roy mentioned ‘a lost classic’ in the Financial Times. She said: ‘Few novels strike such a stark note of warning, or capture with such accuracy the perilous years of the rise of a dictatorship.’ We had never heard of The Oppermanns then. But we hope that now all or  most of our readers will want to hear about it.

Richard Evans concludes: ‘Ultimately Feuchtwanger’s work transcends any political sympathies. It is all too relevant in the twenty-first century as a warning against complacency in the face of lies and abuse, and a call for vigilance in the defence of democracy against those who would destroy it. It is the first great masterpiece of anti-fascist literature, and deserves to as widely read today as it was on its original publication.’

Endpaper

The endpapers reproduce a rug purchased in Germany in 1933 and brought to England in 1936 by a German refugee, in a private collection.

Additional Information

ISBN13/Barcode 9781910263266
ISBN10 1910263265
Author Lion Feuchtwanger
Binding Paperback
Date Published 17 Mar 2020
Frequency No
Report Date N/A
Pages 534
Publisher Persephone Books

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