A Small Circus was written in 1931 and is set just two years before this, in 1929. It takes place in a small German town, and many of the details which fill its pages are autobiographical. The introduction to this volume by Jenny Williams is an informative one, even for a reader who has studied Nazi Germany for many years, both at school and University. Williams states that the novel is ‘one of the best fictional representations of the forces that brought the Weimar Republic to its knees and paved the way for National Socialism’.
Throughout, many different characters are followed. A list of Dramatis Personae has been included, which is most handy when there are over 78 characters in the novel, the majority of whom are named. All of these characters create the community, and are therefore from all walks of life. We meet a disgruntled journalist named Tredup, who works for the Pomeranian Chronicle, farmers who are plotting their revenge upon ‘greedy officials’, and a ‘mysterious travelling salesman’ from Berlin, who seems intent on stirring up dissent within the town. All of these characters have been placed against a background in which the Nazis grow ever more powerful, and where the Communists are battling with them at every turn. In this novel, Fallada has created a political satire of sorts, encompassing such elements as battles between the poor and rich, Left and Right and bosses and their workers, and the vast disparities between each pairing.
Whilst the novel is rather a long one, standing at 578 pages, each chapter has been split into separate short sections, almost like a series of vignettes. Whilst the writing style throughout works well, the sheer length and vast list of characters are rather off putting, and they make it seem as though the reader is wading through treacle almost from the outset. Whilst A Small Circus is interesting from a political and historical standpoint, as a novel it does feel over confused.