Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Berlin Stories (by Christopher Isherwood)

I'm finally back to reading books from the Time 100 list, although I'm way off pace for the year. (I'm halfway finished with The Moviegoer though, so that's something. It's the ongoing War and Peace project that's really slowing me down.) Anyway, this one is fabulous. Who knew that Cabaret was based on a story by Christopher Isherwood? Not me!

This whole book is a semi-autobiographical collection of stories about a gay man living in Berlin in the 30s just before Hiter's rise to power. I enjoyed not only the story titled Sally Bowles, but many of the other stories. One strange thing is that the stories weren't really in chronological order--characters and events recur, but sometimes out of order. Still, I really enjoyed being immersed in the world of 1930s Berlin, and the characters are memorable, and the writing's terrific. Really enjoyed it. This is from the intro (which he wrote about returning to Berlin after the war):

"The street where I used to live is behind the Nollendorfplatz... Even before the war, this was a decayed and forbidding district; but when I saw it again I was really awestruck. The fronts of the buildings were pitted with shrapnel and eaten by rot and weather, so that they had that curiously blurred, sightless look you see on the face of the Sphinx.

Only a very young and frivolous foreigner, I thought, could have lived in such a place and found it amusing. Hadn't there been something youthfully heartless in my enjoyment of the spectacle of Berlin in the early thirties, with its poverty, its political hatred and its despair?"

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