on 17 August 2000
This book is known as the original of "Cabaret"- which is why I bought it. And am I glad I did- don't expect the story as seen on stage or film, for here you will find several accounts of pre-war Berlin from various view points. The book is made up of several, smaller, novella's that are vaguely related while independent in themselves. Isherwood's strength lies in his ability to create characters that are believable (all, or at least most, were based on real persons that Isherwood had met), and to evoke the atmosphere of the Berlin of the 30's. His writing style is quite simple, yet says all that there is to say- which makes this book very easy to read. He manages to create the increasingly opressive atmosphere of pre-war Germany throughout the book; which grows into an observation of Germany's response to the growing threat of Nazism- which makes us feel as though we could possibly have been there. It is a fascinating account of the changes that took place, and it shows how people can be led astray to believe false truths etc. This has to be one of my favourite books of all time because of what it is- A study of various characters, A document of a changing Germany, An echo of a lifestyle now lost...Read and Enjoy- with crude fascination!
on 10 March 2003
`Goodbye to Berlin' is writing at its best: spare, unadorned, and sincere. Christopher Isherwood flies in the face of today's tendency towards florid, pretentious writing, which seems to favor five similies when none would have done. His evocation of pre-WWII Berlin through a series of interlinked stories, and the deft, subtly drawn characters - the famous Sally Bowles is just one - is unforgettable.
Perhaps it is the way Isherwood writes with a remarkable lack of ego - as his famous quote states, events are captured as objectively as a camera records light onto a photographic film. This does not mean he is impassive; quite the opposite. His desire is clearly to record a fragile time exactly as it was. Nobody knows the outcome of history until it happens, and the rise of the Nazi party as told here is all the more horrifying, as we experience it as the people themselves must have done - first a fringe party regarded as little more than a joke, then as rulers of the country, in a frighteningly short space of time.
Although it's small and perfectly formed, you'll never want it to end. Isherwood's original intention was to include these episodes in a much larger opus about Germany in the Weimar Republic, but there's something about the fragmented quality of the eventual book which is perfectly suited to its subject matter.
It takes pride of place in my library.
on 17 March 2005
"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking," wrote Christopher Isherwood, at the beginning of "Goodbye to Berlin." "Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." In the six portraits of Weimar Berlin that comprise "Goodbye To Berlin," Isherwood chronicles his life among the demimonde in this gloriously decadent capital city. He lived there, off and on, between 1929 and 1933. These marvelous stories are a fusion of fact and fiction. With each tale, and the passing of time, the sense of foreboding and the author's prophetic imagery intensifies, as Germany prepares to embrace Adolph Hitler.
Berlin was still a charming city of broad avenues, parks and cafés during this period. It was also a grotesque metropolis of night-people, visionaries, political fanatics - a place filled with intrigue, where vice and virtue were found in abundance - more of the former than the latter. 1930s Berlin was a powerful city of mobs and millionaires. And it was one huge salon, a center of European intellectual life where the arts and sciences flourished. This is the scene which provides a backdrop for Isherwood's stories.
The six "Goodbye To Berlin" stories form a relatively continuous narrative. In "A Berlin Diary - Autumn 1930," Isherwood introduces the reader to his landlady, the infamous Fraulein Schroeder, "Schroederschen," who calls him Herr Issyvoo. She is able to recite a history of her former lodgers by looking at the spots, stains and spillages left behind on her furniture, carpets and linens. Fellow flatmates include: Frl. Kost, a young woman, plump, blonde and pretty, who makes a living at the world's oldest profession - extremely upscale, of course; Bobby, who is a mixer at a west-end bar called the Troika, has adopted an English Christian name because they are all the rage; a commercial traveler, who is out most of the time, lives in the tiny attic which Frl. Schroeder refers to as the Swedish Pavilion; and Frl. Mayr, with her enormous arms, bull-dog jaw and coarse string-colored hair, is a music hall singer - the best in all of Germany, Schroeder assures with pride.
"Sally Bowles" certainly is divine decadence, and her antics make for a wonderful story. I had a difficult time keeping the image of Liza Minnelli singing "Cabaret" out of my mind, however. I must say though, after reading about Isherwood's Sally, I have to laud Ms. Minnelli on her performance. Her characterization is indeed recognizable in this Ms. Bowles.
"On Ruegen Island - Summer 1931" describes the author's holiday and the two characters he becomes involved with at a summer resort, Otto Nowak and Peter Wilkinson. Otto is a working class German youth, who uses his attractiveness to freeload off of men and women alike, rather than earn an honest wage. Peter Wilkinson, an Englishman living in Berlin, is extremely neurotic and very attached to Otto, although the two quarrel and bicker constantly.
"The Nowaks," Otto, (of Ruegen Island), and his immediate family, take Isherwood in as a lodger. As money becomes more difficult to come by and the effects of hyperinflation take their toll on Christopher's pocketbook, he has to economize and temporarily leaves Frl. Schroeder's relatively luxurious flat, for the slum-like, working-class projects of Wassertorstrasse.
In "The Landaurers," a wealthy Jewish family is aware of what is in store with the rise of Hitler's Nazism. Natalie befriends Isherwood, and through her so does her family. In this story the perils ahead are obvious and the Landaurers make preparations to leave Germany.
And in "A Berlin Diary - Winter - 1932-33," Isherwood bids farewell to Berlin. He will not return until 1952.
These are well written and important stories which paint a picture of a never-to-be-forgotten time. The language and content give a real sense of the period, and Christopher Isherwood's taut and descriptive narrative is superb. Highly recommended!
on 10 December 2009
Apparently Isherwood intended this book to be much longer with many more chapters. It is a pity he did not manage to write more as each of the six chapters is excellent. They can be read separately and indeed some of them, including the best known 'Sally Bowles' were published at different times in other collections. I would suggest though that they work best together as each contributes to a wonderfully broad and deeply textured picture of life in Berlin in the 1930s. The first and last chapters are straight-forward diaries and detail Isherwood's living circumstances, the people around him and the mounting turbulence and then violence as the country slides steadily towards political and economic chaos. The last chapter in particular captures the mood of confusion and fear that spread across the city like a plague as the Nazis began to exert their influence.
The other four chapters explore Isherwood's experiences with specific people and families from different social, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The Sally Bowles chapter is fun and entertaining and exposes well the peculiar way that the vivacity and energy of some people are endlessly attractive to others despite, or perhaps in some cases because of, an accompanying selfishness and disregard for the feelings of anyone other than themselves. Sally exudes a kind of ethereal sexuality, echoed two decades later in Capote's Holy Golightly, that those around her seem to find irresistible.
The second chapter sees Isherwood exploring his homosexuality and the sexual mores of his contemporaries including the age-old issue of attraction between an older, cerebral man on the one hand and a younger, physical man on the other. Like Plato and Wilde before him Isherwood examines the specifics of such relationships, both positives and negatives and seems to conclude that, despite much passion along the way, they are always doomed to end unhappily as one or other party tires of the other.
The other two chapters cover Isherwood's time spent with two families, one wealthy, middle-class and Jewish and the other poor, working class and German. Gently and subtly he contrasts the two, exposing the nonsense of Nazi eugenic theories and the concept of the so-called master race. In addition to all of this though, there is simple good story-telling. You feel an affinity with these characters and want very much to know what will happen to them. Tragically, as the book ends, in 1933, a series of events ensue that we have come to know only too well.
on 28 October 2009
Goodbye to Berlin is less of a novel, though it classifies itself as one, and more a collection of four stories and two diary entries. All these tales are based around the underground and lower end of society in 1930's Germany as the Nazi's slowly come to power and there is a great time of change in Berlin. Though written from the perspective of Christopher Isherwood a young writer at the time these, the author clarifies in the introduction, are all works of fiction - I wasn't sure if I believed that as the characters we meet are so vivid.
One of the stories in the book, which do all interlink, and possibly my favourites is Sally Bowles and was the story that inspired the film I Am Camera that then became the iconic Cabaret. Sally is a wonderful character living on the wrong side of town and hanging out with the wrong kind of people invariably getting herself into trouble. She moves into the same apartment as Christopher that we see in the first Berlin Diary where we also meet the wonderful landlady Fraulein Schroeder who is a wonderful motherly, yet incredibly nosey landlady who takes in the tenants other people wouldn't rent to.
We also see how men who liked men coped with such a forbidden love in On Ruegen Island, and tales of poverty in The Nowaks and The Landauers before a wonderful final Berlin Diary as Isherwood, both the character and the narrator bid farewell to the city and the love affair they have had with it and the people who walk its back streets. Through all of these tales we meet the minorities and the rejects of Berlin who give an unusual insight into Berlin during its history that I hadn't read the likes of before.
on 25 November 2010
This is a series of illustrative vignettes that read as a true account of one man's ex-pat experiences in the dying days of the Weimar Republic, which is why I bought it. There's not a particularly likeable character in the book and the whole thing is fairly depressing. In part this is because Isherwood manages to evoke the readers' nostalgia for an era that they haven't experienced, even though he isn't shy about portraying it as rather shabby and pathetic. I imagine that is what it must have felt like being in Berlin at that time with the Nazi threat growing every day, though the party seems mostly to have been viewed as a farcical group of boors by Isherwood's circle for the majority of the book. If you're interested in the period or in how individuals record history as their personal stories then this is a book worth reading... just not if you're already blue.
on 29 January 2003
What is unique in this book is its lack of reference to Nazism. Only at the end do we really see politics enter the novel and feel Berlin's doom closing in. Almost everyone Isherwood comes across are not political- they just want to get on with life. As an exception to this there is a group of Communists her sets out to meet but they seem devoted to theory alone.
The sense of Berlin's eminent change builds up momentum throughout the novel- at the start it is difficult to imagine the city Isherwood is writing about is soon to lose a vast amount of its population to the camps, the army or the bombs and most of its buildings destroyed. The light-hearted section detailing Sally Bowles's friendship guides us into more serious pieces on poverty and charged relationships ending with Isherwood's exit from Berlin, as the Nazi's power grows too strong.
Isherwood's writing seems modern for its time and has a sense of amusing reality that reminded me of George Orwell's Down and Out In Paris In London. What struck me as his finest point was the way in which his characters just leap off the page into reality and seem bursting with life. This makes the ending seem even more poignant than it is as we leave many of these characters to face their fate.
This is a wonderful last glance back at the old Berlin that no longer exists.
The stories centre on the up and coming but unsuccessful author - Christopher Isherwood. He is also the author of the book.
It chronicles his three years in Berlin, 1930 -1933. The book is really a series of short stories concerning the people he met there, lived with and how they lived their lives. I found the book easy to read and quite entertaining I have to say. This is the book that sprouted a play and then the hit film and musical Cabaret, which is one of my all-time theatre favourites. However, only the second story of Sally Bowles is connected to the musical in any real sense. The connection to Berlin is also very fleeting and frankly this could be anywhere, it's hardly a guided tour of Berlin but that won't spoil your enjoyment of all of the characters you'll come across.
The book starts in the guest house where he stays initially and there you get to know the land lady and fellow tenants. This is quite fun. Sally Bowles follows this in `Cabaret' mode, before he spends the summer with a pair of younger men, Peter and Otto, who I take to be gay? The `Nowak's' are Otto's family and he stays with them for a while too. There are plenty of laughs here as well.
The' Landauers' is a sort of Berlin Harrods; He gets to meet the family. Again, I found this a really interesting tale. As a finale we get exerts from his diary, around about the time the Nazi party are gaining strength in Germany.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it's very different.
on 8 July 2012
Goodbye to Berlin consists of 5 chapters, told by the same narrator during his 3 years in Berlin from 1930 to 1933. Each chapter is a short story in its own right which has little connection to other chapters, and charts the relationship between the narrator and one individual or set of individuals. The sections were originally written as parts of other novels or part of an unfisnished novel on berlin, but this does not effect the continuity of the collection as a whole.
George Orwell described the work as `Brilliant sketches of a society in decay.' Indeed, the novel is a series of incisive character studies set against the backdrop of Hitler's rise to power. Our narrator, who shares the name of the author, is `wry, detached, impressionistic in approach, yet vividly eloquent' (back cover of Vintage Classics edition). Accepting of everyone, apathetic and apolitical, he is bemused by his friends' attempts to push his buttons. Isherwood writes in a straightforward, detached, but highly observant and masculine manner.
The first story is the most well-known as the musical Cabaret is loosely based upon it. Sally Bowles dominates this chapter and is fascinating and loveable at first but quickly becomes tiresome. Her distinctive, flightly way of talking is perfectly captured by Liza Minelli in the film. She appears in some of Isherwood's other novels.
The remaining stories involve a struggling working-class family named Novak, a short-lived gay couple, and the Jewish owners of a department store called Landauers.
I would highly recommend Goodbye to Berlin and will seek out more stories by Isherwood.
on 25 March 2012
Many readers will be drawn to 'Goodbye to Berlin' because the film Cabaret is loosely based on it, but Sally Bowles is just one of many idiosyncratic Berliners, both natives and expats, whose stories are told in this novel. Beginning with the dissolute group of night-owls and prostitutes with whom he shares a boarding house, the narrator, 'Christopher Isherwood', recounts a series of story-length anecdotes about characters whose lives intertwine with his in 1930s Berlin. The narrator may be strangely familiar but the characters are fictional, and range from the deliciously comic Otto, the malevolent teenage gigolo, to the fine and upstanding Landauer family - Jewish and therefore doomed. Isherwood's beautifully measured prose has just the right balance of detached observation and affectionate tribute to make this a thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable read, with characters you're likely to reflect on long after finishing the book.