“Goodbye to Berlin” is a collection of six stories by author Christopher Isherwood from during his stay in the city during the rise of Nazi Party – the 1930s.
The second story/chapter was so engrossing that I cannot for the life of me recall what the first one was about! What you need to know about this book is the fact that they are decorated accounts of real people the author had encountered. The second story focuses on a young aspiring actor and nightclub singer Sally Bowles who loves downing Prairie oysters and getting into trouble. Chris fondly recalls their brief bitter-sweet friendship, they are both bitchy to each other, yet keep hanging out until they finally grow apart.
It was easily my favorite story, offering an entertaining look into the life of a young girl who comes from a wealthy family, yet runs away from home to pursue her dreams of becoming an actor. She is quick to warm up with any rich man who could get her closer to her goals and even after being cheated, deserted, and abandoned by all kinds of older men, she remains shockingly optimistic. Sally Bowles is beautiful, flamboyant and representative of several young men and women who’d do anything to chase their dreams. The other most memorable character in this collection is Isherwood’s landlady Fraulein Schroeder, who is conservative and disapproving of the lifestyles most of her depraved tenants lead, but needs them to keep paying the bills.
Chapter Three, titled “On Rügen Island,” is set in the summer of 1931. It’s a quick read that describes the tragicomedy-like relationship between a wealthy man named Peter and a much younger man, Otto. Interestingly, the next story has Christopher living as a tenant in Otto’s cramped home in Berlin because he cannot afford decent lodgings anymore. The other two stories were forgettable, but I enjoyed reading these stories over a week. Despite the events occurring during the rise of the Nazis and their anti-Jewish propaganda, the author lives in an interesting bubble. He is near-broke, has some rich friends, and his life consists of drinking, partying, watching movies, and discussing politics while managing to avoid any real danger.
The author worked as an English tutor in Berlin to earn money, but it seems he did not enjoy living there much. He frequently uses German phrases in his stories, which appears as a flashy attempt to showcase his language skills. However, for those who don’t know German, it can be simply annoying as the meanings of the phrases are not explained, at least not in the edition I read.
Considering that this novel was published in 1939, Christopher Isherwood doesn’t open up intimately about his experiences or thoughts, or at least that’s what I gathered from the text. In the beginning, he claims to be a camera capturing what he sees for his readers, but his impressions are often blurry.
It’s a 3/5 from me.
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