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The Berlin Stories Paperback – 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Christopher Isherwood was a diverse writer whose accomplishments included The Mortmere Stories (Edward Upward Series), A Single Man and a translation of The Song of God (Bhagavad Gita). But many critics hailed The Berlin Stories, the reissue of two of his best novels, as his finest. In the book, a man named Christopher Isherwood, who is and is not the author, writes a story of exile, combining the best of Isherwood's real life with the best of the life he imagined. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Collection of two previously published novels written by Christopher Isherwood, published in 1946. Set in pre-World War II Germany, the semiautobiographical work consists of Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935; U.S. title, The Last of Mr. Norris) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939). The Berlin Stories merge fact and fiction and contain ostensibly objective, frequently comic tales of marginal characters who live shabby and tenuous existences as expatriates in Berlin; the threat of the political horrors to come serves as subtext. In Goodbye to Berlin the character Isherwood uses the phrase "I am a camera with its shutter open" to claim that he is simply a passive recorder of events. The two novels that comprise The Berlin Stories made Isherwood's literary reputation; they later became the basis for the play I Am a Camera (1951; film, 1955) and the musical Cabaret (1966; film, 1972). -- The Merriam-Webster Encylopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Reissue edition (2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081121804X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811218047
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Between 1929 and 1933 Isherwood lived in Berlin and, after returning in London, he wrote the novel and the autobiographical sketches that make up this volume. Just how autobiographical these stories might be is left to the reader's imagination, of course, but they seemed to be based on German eccentrics whom the author knew and whom the reader will be unable to forget.
The novel that opens the book, "The Last of Mr. Norris" (published in 1935 in England as "Mr. Norris Changes Trains"), is a somewhat comic portrayal of a bumbling, vain double agent who wears an ill-fitting wig and operates in the sleazy underworld contested by Communist idealists and Nazi thugs. The narrator, William Bradshaw, is a British expatriate tutoring English to young Germans in Berlin--someone, in other words, a lot like Isherwood himself. He encounters Norris on a train, and they initiate an often bizarre, always uneasy, on-again, off-again friendship that propels them through drunken nights in sleazy pubs and dangerous rendezvous at Swiss ski resorts.
In the second half of the book, "Goodbye to Berlin" (published in 1939), Isherwood drops the alter-ego and presents himself as the narrator. Character sketches alternate with "diary entries" and feature an overlapping cast, and some of the minor figures from "Mr. Norris" make important cameos. The most famous story is "Sally Bowles," which later became John Van Druten's play "I Am a Camera" and inspired the musical "Cabaret."
Equally notable, however, is the homoerotic "On Ruegen Island (Summer 1931)," which recounts Isherwood living in a lakeside cabin with the effete, insecure Peter and the athletic, sexually ambivalent Otto, whose Nordic beauty seems transmigrated from an Aryan Youth poster.
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Format: Paperback
Originally published as a separate volume in 1939, GOODBYE TO BERLIN includes SALLY BOWLES, which was itself first published as a separate volume in 1937. Frankly autobiographical in nature (the narrator is here given as Christopher Isherwood himself), the collection at first seems little more than a series of character portraits and random events--but as the work progresses it gathers into a dark, often disturbing portrait of Berlin as Germany drifts into the control of the Nazi party, a riot of personalities and swirl of events laced with references to national anti-Semitism and cultural xenophobia, all of it combining to invite the horrors that will cumulate in the cataclysm of World War II.

This is the heart of the book and easily it's greatest part, but it is accompanied by THE LAST OF MR. NORRIS, originally published as a separate work in 1935 as MR. NORRIS CHANGES TRAINS, a work that opens THE BERLIN STORIES. Substantial in and of itself, the short novel presents the relationship between the narrator (here given as Bradshaw) and an elderly and not quite likeable Mr. Norris--a man seemingly engaged in the import-export business but whose covert dealings will ultimate move him to betray even his closest friends. In terms of character and events the novel pales beside GOODBYE TO BERLIN, but in tone and scope it heightens the sense of a society in which anything, no matter how improbable, can happen, and it is very fine indeed.

Readers who come to THE BERLIN STORIES with the idea that they will encounter the plot of CABARET are in for a rude awakening; although the characters are similar, the stories involved are not.
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Format: Paperback
Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories" is perhaps most famous for having inspired the stage and screen masterpiece Cabaret, but those who are looking for an exact match between the two will be disappointed. The divine Sally Bowles does make an appearance (her charisma and verve are the book's high point), but only briefly, and her story only contains only seeds of what would become Cabaret's plotline. The primary similarities between the musical and its source material lie in the characterization of the aforementioned wannabe diva (who is every bit as vibrant on the page as she is in performance), as well as in the central themes and setting.

Berlin, 1930 - 1933: a city caught helplessly in an inexorable rush toward history as warring political factions fight for control and the Nazi party begins its rise to power. Violence and danger lurk in every street, and yet life goes on for the citizens of Berlin - who struggle to keep a degree of normalcy in their lives and food on their tables. They desperately cling to their traditional way of life as Germany's bloodthirsty future in WWII becomes more and more a nightmarish present. They are utterly unprepared for what lies ahead for them and their beloved nation. Could they have stopped Hitler? Almost certainly, if only they had taken the threat seriously. And therein lies the tragedy at the heart of Isherwood's masterpiece: that while it may be human nature to bury your head in the sand and hope for the best when trouble comes knocking, doing so will make you a passive co-conspirator and only allow the worst-case-scenario become a fully realized reality.
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