Ernst Toller, one of the narrators of All That I Am, is visiting New York in 1939 when news breaks that the SS St. Louis has been turned back from Havana Harbor to Europe, with its full load of passengers fleeing the Nazis. He is dictating the story of his comrade-in-arms and true love, Dora, to his secretary. Ruth Becker, the novel’s other narrator, is living in Bondi, Australia in 2001. Quite ill, she spends her long days remembering details of her past life in Berlin and London in the 1920s and ‘30s. She was part of a tight circle of political activists which was led by her cousin Dora and included Toller and Ruth’s husband, a dashing young journalist. Dora was a firebrand whose efforts began with her work to release Great War hero Toller from prison. The four friends were early heroes of the resistance, fighting against the rise of Hitler while in Berlin and continuing their efforts to bring him down when they became exiles in London. They took on incredibly dangerous missions with only their small circle and a few others within their trust. Funder describes the tragic story of these four idealists, richly painting for us their locations and emotions. It was difficult to keep up with the alternating narrators casually switching their reminiscences from the present to the past, but well worth the effort, as this intelligent, beautifully written book offers deep insight into an important piece of history.
All That I Am
Miriam Bradman Abrahams is a Cuban-born, Brooklyn-raised, Long Island-residing mom. She is Hadassah Nassau’s One Region One Book chairlady, a freelance essayist, and a certified yoga instructor who has loved reviewing books for the JBC for the past ten years.
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