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The Artificial Silk Girl Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 17, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
First published in 1932, this unusual novel might well have been subtitled "Social Climbing Through Bed-Hopping in the Last Days of the Weimar Republic." Initially a commercial success, it was soon banned by the Nazis for the racy, irreverent musings of its narrator, Doris, an office worker who decides that her best chance of improving her lot is to exercise her considerable libido as she tries to find a rich Mr. Right. Her strategy succeeds for brief periods, but Doris also goes through several down-at-the-heels phases as her various affairs come apart; at a particularly perilous moment, she is almost forced into prostitution. Her most consistent candidate for true love is a man named Hubert, who wanders in and out of her life. When he disappears, Doris takes a stab at life in the theater before a problematic affair ends that venture. Doris's frank, outrageous comments on the foibles of her various suitors keep things entertaining until the one-note romantic plot begins to wear thin. Readers may be disappointed that Keun (1905-1982) has little to offer on the politics of the era, save for her portrayal of a brief date in which Doris gets rejected when she pretends to be Jewish. That lacuna aside, this is an illuminating look at the much-mythologized social and sexual mores of Weimar Germany.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Elle.com - Daily Essentials 2002
The Artificial Silk Girl
A young woman in pre-war Berlin dreams of becoming a star, but after a promising start, slowly slides into destitution. The Artificial Silk Girl follows Doris into the underbelly of a city that had once seemed all glamour and promise. Originally written in 1931 by 22-year-old German writer, Irmgard Keun, The Artificial Silk Girl became an instant best-seller. Just a year later it was banned by the Nazis, and all copies were destroyed. Kathie von Ankum's English translation will bring this masterwork to the foreground once more, giving a new generation the chance to discover Keun for themselves.
The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun (translated by Kathie von Ankum), $22, at booksellers nationwide.
The Artificial Silk Girl
July 1, 2002
A particularly vivid, gritty new English translation of a 1932 novel set in Berlin between the world wars, whose expatriate author (1905-82) enjoyed early critical and popular success, incurred the displeasure of Nazi censors, spent two years as the mistress of the great Austrian writer (also an expatriate) Joseph Roth, and wrote, pseudonymously, in obscurity (having returned to Germany) until her death. Keun's once-famous novel is the defiant (and anything but confessional) "confession" of its narrator Doris, an ambitious would-be actress whose drift into petty theft, poverty, and disillusionment is observed by a sharp unsentimental eye that also provides numerous vignette-like glimpses of the seaminess and heartlessness of a vibrant city stifled by the imperatives of Nazism. As we learn from scholar Maria Tatar's helpful introduction, this was conceived as an "answer" to Anita Loos's popular potboiler "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." It's more than that: a commendably deft work of social criticism and understated character portrayal. A most worthy rediscovery.
Los Angeles Times Book Review 2002
Artificial Silk Girl
By Susan Salter Reynolds
Sunday, June 30, 2002
The Artificial Silk Girl, written in 1932 by Irmgard Keun, then 23, was blacklisted a year later by the Nazis for its anti-German portrayals of businessmen and bureaucrats. In the 1950s, it was resurrected as a feminist manifesto: the diary of a working girl in Depression-era Berlin.
Damned by the Nazis, hailed by the feminists. You'd think there's hardly anything left to say about the poor novel, except that it is a truly charming window into a young woman's life in the early 1930s.
Portland Phoenix 2002
The Artificial Silk Girl
First published in 1932, this unusual novel might well have been subtitled "Social Climbing through Bed-Hopping in the Last Days of the Weimar Republic." Initially a commercial success, it was soon banned by the Nazis for the racy, irreverent musings of its narrator, Doris, an office worker who decides that her best chance of improving her lot is to exercise her considerable libido as she tries to find a rich Mr. Right. Her strategy succeeds for brief periods, but Doris also goes through several down-at-the-heels phases as her various affairs come apart; at a particularly perilous moment, she is almost forced into prostitution. Her most consistent candidate for true love is a man named Hubert, who wanders in and out of her life. When he disappears, Doris takes a stab at life in the theater before a problematic affair ends that venture. Doris's frank, outrageous comments on the foibles of her various suitors keep things entertaining until the one-note romantic plot begins to wear thin. Readers may be disappointed that Keun (1905-1982) has little to offer on the politics of the era, save for her portrayal of a brief date in which Doris gets rejected when she pretends to be Jewish. That lacuna aside, this is an illuminating look at the much-mythologized social and sexual mores of Weimar Germany.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
San Francisco Chronicle 2002
The Artificial Silk Girl
J. Alex Tarquinio Sunday
July 28, 2002
Christopher Isherwood and Bertolt Brecht narrated the chaos of Weimar-era Berlin, and today their "Berlin Stories" and "Three Penny Opera" are hailed as early 20th century classics. But how many people have heard of Irmgard Keun, author of "The Artificial Silk Girl," a popular German novel in 1932 that nearly vanished from literary history after the Nazis banned it a year later?
Other Press has a new English translation, the first since 1933 and an improvement on the original, which was marred by a translator who added political passages to keep pace with German politics. This could only have blemished the subtle political vision of the book's author, who was just 22. Although Keun's anti-Nazi stance is now known (she eventually fled Germany), the Nazis could not have banned her book in 1931 because of any overt political message. Rather, they must have been annoyed by the heroine's blase' attitude about her many random sexual encounters.
The book is the fictional journal of Doris, an 18-year-old runaway who goes to Berlin to seek her fame and fortune. Doris punctuates the passages in which she encounters politics and racial violence with statements of profound indifference. In the only episode in which she shows any interest in politics, she stumbles into a peace rally and is caught up in the emotion of the moment. A man takes her off to a pastry shop, where she hopes he will give her a lesson in German politics. But that is clearly not his intention, so she slips away from him. "And I was sad about not having gotten any political education. But I did have three pieces of hazelnut torte -- which took care of my lunch, which couldn't be said about a lesson in politics."
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Top Customer Reviews
In The Artificial Silk Girl, main character Doris starts out in a small city, where she wants to be an actress, while supporting herself as a stenographer and eventually writing a commentary about her life which author Irmgard Keun presents as Doris’s point of view. The authorities in Germany were not pleased, however, with Keun’s published depiction of Berlin life as Hitler and the Nazis, preparing to take power, envisioned it. Within a year, her books were confiscated and all known copies were destroyed. In 1936, Keun, firmly opposed to Nazism, escaped Germany for Belgium, Holland, and later New York.
Doris, the “artificial silk girl,” has no politics, focusing almost completely on her own ambitions, and the novel that follows is both fun and very funny, based entirely on the persona of Doris – totally goal oriented, unafraid to take chances, willing to do anything to get what she wants, and very clever. Her voice – honest, bawdy, and surprisingly guileless – also shows her intelligence, and her pointed observations and insights into those around her give the author unlimited opportunities for unique descriptions: One restaurant is “a beer belly all lit up,” and dancing the tango “when you’re drunk…is like going down a slide.” Her feverish excitement at getting a small part in a show beguiles the reader, and when her outrageous behavior forces her to escape not only the theater but the city itself, the reader cannot help but root for her eventual success.
Dividing the novel into three parts reflecting the seasons and the symbolism associated with them, the author creates a wild, spontaneous, free-for-all of action in Part I, which takes place at the end of summer. Part II begins in Late Fall in Berlin, a much larger city, and the reader expects that this will be a darker and probably more contemplative time. The gradual change of mood here increases the reader’s identification with Doris and her goals. Part III, “A Lot of Winter and a Waiting Room,” introduces three men, each of whom affects Doris’s life and future and helps bring about new recognitions by Doris and a realistic conclusion to the novel. The book’s timeless themes regarding women and how they see themselves, combine with history in a unique way, giving life to a less publicized period of history and new insights into the lives of some of the women who lived through it.
Doris, the girl of the title, is young and certain in how to live as only the young can be self-assured. And, self-possessed. She explains that she is writing down her life because she wants to live it large, like a movie. Having lost her secretarial job in a legal firm (who needed all those commas, anyway?) in her hometown of Cologne, then having brought on misadventures with a theatrical troupe and relieved another woman of a fur coat, she heads for Berlin in search of a man to support her. She has no scruples about using her sexuality. She does not want to work in an office again, and especially she does not want to go to the trouble of becoming educated to work in an office. She works hard at being cluelessly apolitical, which gets her into some brief scrapes, like when she thinks an industrialist wants to hear that she is Jewish, and she lies and tells him she is, and no, that's not what he wants to hear.
Okay, she lies, she steals, she is anti-intellectual, she uses her body to attain material comforts, she's unapologetic and you can't help liking this girl. Unlike the pathetic prostitute who lives upstairs from her in Berlin, she's nobody's victim. Most of the comic interludes that inspire the comparison to Bridget Jones are in the early part of the book. Her own back story is grim and things don't always go well for her and people she knows, but you can't keep her down.
This edition includes a brief translator's note and a critical introduction, which are fine, though I wished they had answered some questions I had.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
So says Doris - so writes Doris, that is, near the last page of her thick black notebook, in which she...Read more