‘All That I Am’ had me completely involved from the first page. It is a great story set in engrossing times. There is a love story involved but it is overshadowed by the darkness of Hitler’s rise to power.
The story centres around five people living in London in the 1930’s having fled from Nazi Germany. Their lives are complex both personally and politically. Two of the characters are based on real people. Ernst Toller was a playwright, a political activist and President of the short-lived Bavarian Republic. W.H. Auden was a close friend of his and wrote the poem ‘In Memory of Ernst Toller’. Toller committed suicde in New York in 1939. The other ‘true’ character is Ruth Koplowitz who migrated to Australia and was personally known to the author.
The story begins in Sydney in 2001 when Ruth, now a very elderly woman, receives a mysterious package which contains the previously unknown manuscript of Toller’s autobiography. His story and the memories it evokes in Ruth are the basis of this compelling narrative. We see courage and betrayal, strength and weakness, kindness and brutality in their extremes as these were extreme times. We are reminded of how fragile democracy is and how carefully it must be guarded – an ever timely warning.
I learnt a lot from reading this book. It is a brilliant evocation of the times and a totally satisfying read. And it is a reminder of the wealth of wonderful Australian writers we are able to enjoy.
I think it would make a wonderful film – but read the book now!