Saturday, May 04, 2013

Christopher Isherwood - Goodbye to Berlin

It helps sometimes to have a To-Be-Read (TBR) list handy as you go book hunting in a library. Just go to the relevant shelves, pick out your book and, zip zap zoom, you are done. I have taken to making a TBR list based on recommendations by people. 

I picked the first two books on my list, Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood and The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott, a few days ago.

I have just finished reading Goodbye to Berlin.

It is an account of the author’s stay in Berlin for a period of time. It was an exciting time, just before Hitler came to power and launched his full scaled pogrom against the Jews.

While we do not get a political commentary on the times, we do get sketches of people who go about their lives, not having any idea about the storm that is headed their way.

The novel is divided into several chapters, A Berlin Diary (Autumn 1930), Sally Bowles, On Rugen Island (Summer 1931), The Nowaks, The Landauers, and finally again, A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932-3)

A Berlin diary is an account of Isherwood's life in Berlin. He profiles his stay in a boarding house there. He writes about Frl. Schroeder, his sweet and caring landlady, his fellow lodgers and their everyday happenings.

The piece de resistance here is undoubtably Sally Bowles. I was struck by the similarity between her and Holly Golightly. I found out from wikipedia that Sally Bowles was indeed the inspiration for Holly. Capote and Isherwood met in New York and happened to talk about this small time night club performer who was a complete degenerate. Unlike Holly, Sally did not get a glamourous 'face' to play her, hence she remained unknown.  

On Reugen Islands examines Otto, a handsome spoiled young man who puts himself out for favors. Holidaying in the Reugen Islands, Isherwood runs into Peter and the young man he has 'befriended', Otto Nowak. The relationship between Peter and Otto soon runs into rough weather, and Isherwood gets a ringside view to their fights. The Nowaks is a sequel to the previous story.  Here Isherwood goes to live with the Nowaks as he has fallen on hard times.  Here we get to look at the sad, poor life that Otto's family leads.

The Landauers is about a rich Jewish family that Isherwood gets introduced to. He soon strikes up a special friendship with their daughter, Natalia, who is a pretty, curious, intelligent young schoolgirl. Isherwood seems to waver on the brink of a relationship with her.

The final chapter is again about his previous landlady and life in the boarding house. Things are getting sinister now, Hitler is almost upon them. He sees life changing around him and he prepares to leave.

The stories are not told in a usual 'fictional' style. They read more like memoirs, and often seem like pointless sketches. But later, you realise that that these are an important record of those times, some
what like snapshots that drop out of an old family album, reminding you of past family events.


Kalpana Misra said...

I loved this book. And I can never forget Holly Golightly's green toe nails.
Great blog BTW

Ava Suri said...

Thank you Very much, Kalpana

Anonymous said...

The visitor from Ratchaburi
It's a pity I never read Christopher Isherwood's book. But I was born in Berlin, and I saw the film Cabaret. It's a good review. i must follow your Must Read List.

Ava Suri said...

This book is worth a read, especially if you are looking for books based on Berlin.

I have yet to read The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov.

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