My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A lot went on in Berlin between World War I and World War II.
After Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts piqued my interest, I read Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, a two-novel package of The Last of Mr Norris and Goodbye to Berlin.
The Broadway play and movie Cabaret are loosely based on Goodbye to Berlin.
Like Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the male protagonists’ homosexuality is only hinted at by the author, though it helps the reader’s understanding to be aware of it. The Hollywood productions of both Breakfast and Cabaret turn the heroes straight as an arrow.
The heroes in both novels, William Bradshaw and Christopher Isherwood, are one and the same. Fraulein Schroeder, my favorite character, turns up as the landlady in both novels. In Goodbye to Berlin, Isherwood is not mentioned by name at first. But Frl Schroeder calls out, “Herr Issyvoo, Herr Issyvoo!” Later, he introduces himself as Mr. Isherwood.
Not sure why I find this so funny, but I do.
People think Germans could not have realized what the horrifying outcome of the Nazi regime. But these novels, published before WWII, show the shadow of Fascism spreading across Berlin and the fear the more intellectual citizens felt.
Frl. Schroeder represents the non-intellectual German. Isherwood says of her,
“Already she is adapting herself, as she will adapt herself to every new regime… If anybody were to remind her that, at the elections last November, she voted communist, she would probably deny it hotly and in perfect good faith. She is merely acclimatizing herself. . . Thousands of people like Frl. Schroeder are acclimatizing themselves. After all, whatever government is in power, they are doomed to live in this town.”
The 1935 Goodbye to Mr Norris is more of a fun romp with some foreshadowing of the Nazi takeover toward the end. 1939′s Goodbye to Berlin is more weighted with the political battle between the Communists and the Nazis and the growing atrocities that compel Isherwood to leave Berlin.
Isherwood writes beautifully and I can’t wait to read the rest of his books.I still hear “Herr Issyvoo!” in my head.