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"Stasiland" author turned to fiction for latest book

* Novel "All That I Am" has earned wide acclaim
/ Source: Reuters

* Novel "All That I Am" has earned wide acclaim

* Anna Funder used fiction to fill in details of life

* Historical figures include Ernst Toller, Dora Fabian

By Andrea Burzynski

As a former human rights lawyer and the author of non-fiction bestseller "Stasiland" about life in communist East Germany, Australian author Anna Funder knows a thing or two about digging deep to uncover the facts of history's fascinating stories.

Yet she decided to make her second book, "All That I Am," a novel when even her most meticulous historical research couldn't fill an important gap in the story of four friends forced to flee Germany when Hitler rose to power. She needed to know exactly what the characters in question thought and felt.

Based on the real people and events, "All That I Am" follows a quartet of German intellectuals as they live, love, and try to save their country and the rest of Europe from totalitarianism - first in Germany and then from exile in London - during the days of the Weimar Republic.

"All That I Am" shot to the top of the Australian bestseller lists after its release there last September and won the Independent Bookseller's Award for Best Debut Fiction as well as the Indie Book of the Year award for 2012.

Released in the U.S. in February, the book was called "imaginative, compassionate and convincing" by the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times said that Funder wrote it "with grace and conviction about the intrusion of the political on the domestic and the thrill of falling in love over a cause."

Though Funder, 45, incorporated many true details of the lives of historical figures she molded into her characters, she felt that parts of their lives that couldn't be verified through research were necessary to make the story complete.

"If you write a novel, the first thing you have to do is create a believable world so that the reader can join you in that world," she told Reuters. "It was important to be able to make a believable world of an unbelievable reality."


Drawing on history, research and her background as a human rights attorney, Funder tried to construct a story with as many realistic details as she could.

"I looked really, really closely at every bit of evidence I could find, and I eventually did a kind of cold case reconstruction," she said.

Funder's book is narrated alternately by cantankerous retiree Ruth Becker as she recalls her days in London and political playwright Ernst Toller as he dictates his memoirs from a hotel in New York.

Becker is married to charismatic journalist Hans Wesemann, and Toller and activist Dora Fabian carry on a tumultuous love affair as they work to alert Europe to Nazi danger.

Funder constructed the inner lives of Toller, Fabian and Wesemann, who are all real-life historical figures, but the character Becker and her experiences are based on a friend of the author.

As Hitler rises and the world becomes more dangerous for the characters even beyond the borders of Germany, some resist the regime in the face of great personal risk, and one forces the others to cope with deep betrayal.

"You get this spectrum of behavior - how far will someone let themselves be pushed before they say 'I can't do this anymore'?" Funder said. "That is an incredible thing about human beings - a lot of people are that brave," Funder said.

But like many aspects of her book, her views on human courage are not black and white.

"I think it would be too easy to say that there are brave people who do these brave things," she said. "When I was writing 'All That I Am', I know that I was writing about courage. But in order to write about courage I was writing about fear." (Editing By Christine Kearney and Bob Tourtellotte)