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The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin (New Directions Books)

(Part of the The Berlin Novels Series)

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Book Overview

First published in the 1930s, The Berlin Stories contains two astonishing related novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, which are recognized today as classics of modern fiction.... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

3 ratings

The bohemia of Berlin before the Nazi menace

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. Otto appears again in a subsequent section called "The Nowaks," about Isherwood's schizophrenic life while sharing a crowded attic apartment with Otto's dysfunctional family. The final sketch, "The Landauers," concerns Bernhard, the presumed heir of a wealthy Jewish family who operate a Berlin department store. Bernhard's airy cynicism and adopted Eastern spiritualism thwart his business sense and ill-prepare him for the political dangers overtaking the country.Both "Mr. Norris" and "Goodbye to Berlin" share a comic esprit eventually overwhelmed by the gravity of the Nazi menace. Together, these stories are an ode to the carefree bohemians, flappers, intellectuals, and misfits who enlivened Berlin before they were swept away by Hitler and his bullying monsters.

Great stories!

As another reviewer implies, Christopher Isherwood is a master of prose. He succiently and subtlely captures a time, places and people in 1930's Berlin. There are some wonderful characters including Sally Bowles, who is the model for stage version of Cabaret. Indeed, Isherwood, himself, in a forward to this book, tells us what happens when he meets Juliet Harris (?), who first plays Bowles on stage around 1959.This is very easy to read; the events are a bit disheartening at times and the characters aren't always admirable--but they're very true to life. The reader, too, really gets a picture of how German people felt during the rise of Nazism. Highly recommended!

A masterclass in the use of the english language

Together with Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Isherwood has to be regarded as one of the most proficient writers of english this century. His ability to capture a mood, a time and a place is remarkable, his efficiency in doing so is breath-taking.The Berlin Stories stand as a record of the seediness and more fundamental corruption of a city, a state and a people in the late 30s. Isherwood represents the impending shadow of nazism through the abdication of responsibility and self-protection of individual characters. Mr Norris, a Falstaff for the 20th Century, is half cartoon conman and half based on an actual person. His depravity and crookedness is admirable, he is technicolour amid the grey shabbiness of Isherwood's Berlin. We must also remember that this is Isherwood's Berlin and he has shaped and invented experiences to achieve an effect, the camera records, but it always lies. It is the technical brilliance of those lies that sets the Berlin Stories apart from any historical or social record that you'd care to mention.
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