Friday, May 16, 2014

Goodbye to Berlin [1939]

Goodbye to Berlin, the 2nd chapter in Isherwood’s acclaimed and landmark volume Berlin Stories, which has been included by Time magazine in its list of “100 Best English Language Novels of 20th Century”, like the preceding chapter Mr. Norris Changes Trains, was culled out of his experiences of residing for around 2 years in Weimer-era Germany with the Nazi monster, in its proto-avatar, raising its ugly head before devouring the country en masse. However, unlike the latter, where he used a moniker, the protagonist here was given the same name as his. Addictive, episodic and deeply semi-autobiographical, this loosely connected collection of anecdotes – 6 overlapping short stories to be more precise – provided a fascinating chronicle of the zeitgeist, changing times, simmering turbulence, and Berlin’s rich diaspora, with its deliberately caricaturized characters, juxtaposition of the city’s contrasting socio-economic spectra and an irresistible dose of wit, irreverence, hyperboles and cynical humour. The novel was populated with a number of very interesting characters, etched out of the actual people he’d met and befriended there, with the most memorable of all being Sally Bowles, a vivacious, na├»ve, impulsive, hedonistic, self-deceiving, independent-minded and scandalously promiscuous wannabe actress. The plump and kindly landlady Fraulein Shroeder, who was there in the previous novella as well, the psychologically frail, middle-aged and embittered homosexual man Peter, the dysfunctional, opportunistic and glibly amoral Otto, and the wealthy Jewish family of Landauers comprising, among others, the pretty, self-centered young lady Natalie and her sad, intellectual and free-thinking cousin Bernard. In a stark tonal departure, again reminiscent of the preceding chapter, it ended on a grim, bleak and melancholic note with the anti-Semitic fascists wreaking havoc. This was, therefore, a book, that was as personal for the author as it was political, albeit covertly so. The hit musical Cabaret was based on the Sally Bowles episode.

Author: Christopher Isherwood
Genre: Drama/Semi-Autobiographical Novel/Political Drama/Omnibus Novel
Language: English
Country: UK