The most important of the 1933 bestsellers has to be Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now? Fallada shows in very human terms how the subjugation of Germany after World War I laid the foundation for World War II. His characters are ordinary men and women caught in an economic quicksand that pulls them apart while it pulls them down.
As much as I admire Fallada’s work, I have to admit I don’t like it much. It’s too bleak, too horrifying to be pleasant reading, and Fallada manages to suggest that what happened once could happen again. That’s a terrifying thought.
John Galsworthy’s One More River is a less important book than Fallada’s, but one with substance and durability. While Fallada focuses on the lower ranks of German post-war society, Galsworthy focuses on the British gentry of the period. Although far from wealthy, the Charwells worry about how to live loving and honorable lives rather than about where their next meal will come from. Galsworthy’s novel isn’t as bleak as Fallada’s, but it, too, has a sadness beneath the British reluctance to accept pity even from one’s self.
By contrast to these two substantive novels, my third pick is a lightweight. Bess Streeter Aldrich’s Miss Bishop is soppy and sentimental and endearingly silly. Miss Bishop is the sort of novel that elicits tears not because it’s so good, but because it’s not true.