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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, February 27, 2015

The life of crime - in Alexanderplatz - Berlin

Book 6 of Alfred Doblin's Alexanderplatz - Berlin (I'm sticking with this title rather than the reverse as it's the one used on the edition I'm reading, from 1931!) starts off well: Book 5 ended with a "cliffhanger," as the "hero," Franz Biberkopf, was left for dead in the street, run over by a car following a bungled burglary attempt. Now we see him in the hospital, seriously injured, and in fact the doctors amputate his right arm. Two friends stand up for him and pay all his medical bills and find a place for him to live during recovery; it's totally unclear to me who these two are or why they have stepped up - but it is clear that nobody wants Franz to rat out the gang that was trying to pull off the burglary, and he remains steadfast. There's a code of conduct and behavior, even among the thieves and low-lifes who populate most of this novel. This section of the book consists of Franz's various drinking bouts and his speculation on how he can resume his life: he doesn't want to go back to hawking newspapers, as he senses it's a fool's game and there's much more opportunity out there, but what? To a modern reader, it seems like there's little opportunity indeed - all of the characters are victims of their time and circumstances. There are no social services, the society is in some kind of tumult - various hints throughout about the imminent rise of Nazism. For those without education (which is linked to social class) or at least a trade, there seems little or no possibility for survival, let alone prosperity. One avenue seems to be the army, perhaps, but the wounded veterans who sometimes walk or stumble across the stage of this novel imply that the army is no route to a better life. So what can become of Franz - will he inexorably move back toward a life of petty crime?

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