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The Berlin Stories Paperback – 2008
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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.
Top customer reviews
I'm a bit of a pre-WWII German history nerd so I knew a fair amount about the politics of the period, but knew nothing about the cabaret culture and the people who inhabited that world. I was immediately drawn in, and didn't want to put the book down when it ended. The characters are well-drawn, and even the not-so-likeable were portrayed as multifaceted, complex human beings -- real people -- living in an amoral, hedonistic culture where pretty much everything was permissible. Most chose not to see what was going on outside their own little part of Berlin, and were indifferent to it if they did see. And why not? They moved in a time and place that were somehow outside reality. Few of them were rich, but many were capable of living as if they were, simply by telling a few lies and acting the part. One could get money, one way or another. Pleasure was the goal, and if one stayed in the right circle, life was a party.
There was, as there always is, another side of the story. In this case, it was the poor who lived outside the charmed circle, scraping by any way they could. Their existence was day-to-day, with hunger, disease, miserable living conditions and winter cold or oppressive summer heat as their constant companions. Isherwood drew these characters, too, as complex humans, motivated not by the pursuit of pleasure but by the desire to survive.
After reading "The Berlin Stories" I spent quite a bit of time online, finding out more not only about the cabaret culture, but about Berlin in they months preceding the Nazi takeover of the German government. What a time it was. And to think I discovered it because I'm in a play and simply wanted to find some stuff to help me develop my character.
The characters are wonderfully developed. Isherwood does a masterful job of describing their everyday lives against a background in which the Nazi presence is at first only fleetingly acknowledged and then steadily becomes a larger and more menacing presence as the stories progress. His ability to focus on everyday life while merely implying the terror that is about to engulf their society gives that threat of terror even greater impact. This book is a masterpiece of style and great story-telling.
Mr. Norris Changes Trains is a story set in the transition period of the Weimar Republic to Nazism. Isherwood imparts this regime change as almost banal and blasé with regard to the everyday lives of some of the inhabitants of Germany in general and Berlin in particular. There is a plot, simple, but intriguing none the less. The characters seem life like and real. The action certainly seems to be authentic. This is a great story and Goodbye to Berlin I remember as being just as good. Can't recommend highly enough.