I recently read Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada. This novel about life in Nazi Germany was written in 1947, but apparently not translated into English until very recently. It's based on the true story of a working class couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who became so frustrated with Nazism that they started dropping postcards denouncing Hitler all over Berlin. This seems a fairly innocuous action in a country with free speech, but in Nazi Germany it was a death-penalty crime--and the couple knew it.
The couple eluded police and Gestapo detection for two years.
The book is gripping and a page turner. It's well-written, even in translation (there are some word choice oddities however) and puts you inside the world of the characters with great immediacy. The story, of course, is compelling.
More importantly, for all the books I've read recently on everyday life in Nazi Germany for a paper on Bonhoeffer, nothing captures the experience of living in a totalitarian regime like literature. Novels such as this one and George Orwell's 1984 bring totalitarianism to life in a way no amount of delving into Gestapo archives, compiling lists of facts and figures, or discussing repressive legislation and Nazi social programs can do. As a person who loves and values both history and literature, I am happily reminded of how well the two complement each other. We can't fully understand literature if we read it in a vacuum; likewise, we can't fully grasp a historical period without entering it imaginatively--often best led by someone who witnessed the era and can transform that witness into art.
I also very much appreciated the novel's depiction of most of the women characters as strong, independent, resourceful women. More often than not, it's the women holding things together, from households to earning income. This corroborates the histories I read, where, despite Nazi propaganda about sending women back to the home, women tended to be employed in large numbers, both because they worked for less money than men and were more docile. Of course, once World War II began, the government depended on women's labor to fill in for the men at war. Whatever the reason, I very much appreciated Fallada not reducing his females to sex objects or stereotypes.
There's also nothing like literature to communicate the "total" in totalitarian: the people in the book live in a world of black and white. Either you are entirely loyal to the system in every way or you are a traitor. There was almost no gradation, no "I'm Ok with this part of National Socialism, but against that." As a Quaker, I am struck that there was no conscientious objector status: you either went to war when you were called or you were given the death penalty. People apparently pulled strings all the time to be kept from the front, but the concept of objecting on the basis of conscience was not tolerated. The idea of having an inner life that differed from political policy was not tolerated. It's difficult to imagine what it would be like to live in such a world, but the novel goes a long way towards filling that gap.