Hans Fallada was a troubled soul.
Fallada was one of the eminent writers of the Weimar Republic who found their art just as change of politics made it increasingly difficult – even impossible – to practice it.
Nowadays, Fallada is not well known outside of Germany – possibly with the exception of the odd enthusiast, and I wager that even in Germany his books are true classics – meaning that people may remember some of his rather catchy titles but few would have read them.
Anyway, in this short collection of episodes, Fallada gives some insight into the life of a morphine addict in 1920’s Berlin. In the second part of the book, he turns to the life in prison at around the same time. His own experiences feature heavily in both parts of the book. Fallada was an addict. In his own words there was no time when he was not hooked something or another be it morphine, alcohol, nicotine or even caffeine. Addiction had always been a struggle for him and he constantly tried to wean himself of one substance by using another. Episodes of drug addiction intermingled with episodes of mental ill-health and imprisonment but somehow Fallada still managed to write some of the most readable, moving and also critical accounts of life as he saw it.
What stands out for me after reading The Short Treatise is the absolute urgency and focus that the morphine addiction demands from its victims.
“But I still don’t go, even though it’s nearly nine o’clock, I stare at the coffee I poured myself, and I think: caffeine is a poison that stimulates the heart. There are plenty of instances of people killing themselves with coffee, hundreds and thousands of them. Caffeine is a deadly poison, maybe almost as deadly as morphine. Why didn’t it ever occur to me before: coffee is my friend! And I gulp down one, two cups. I sit there for a minute, staring into space, and wait. I go on trying to kid myself, even though I know I’ve been deliberately trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Inevitably, my stomach refuses to keep even that watery coffee down. I can feel my whole body shake and a cold sweat come over me, I need to get up, I am shaken with cramps, and then sour bursts of bile. ‘I’m going to die,’ I whisper to myself, and stare into space.”
3.5* (out of 5*)