Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood


[Edit: Originally posted April 21, 2017]

Goodbye to Berlin is a collection of intertwined short stories. Each story within is both an individual piece and connected to the other pieces in the book. The story “The Landauers” features Sally Bowles, the titular character from her own story in the book. Otto, introduced in “On Rugen Island” also has a significant role to play in “The Nowaks.” While it is possible to read them all individually, you lose something if you read them divorced from the context of the other stories.

As Isherwood discusses in his memoir Christopher and His KindGoodbye to Berlin is heavily, heavily based in Isherwood’s experiences in 1930s Berlin. The main character of Goodbye to Berlin is even named “Christopher Isherwood,” though Isherwood stresses in an introduction that we are not to take this as a sign of a completely autobiographical work.

Isherwood’s approach to writing his real life events into fiction is something that, as a writer, I find incredibly fascinating. It’s different than the standard “write what you know” position. I know the town I grew up in, but if I write a story set there that’s not saying that the story is autobiographical. Now, if I were to fictionalize a specific event that occurred in that town, that’s different. It’s an approach I find myself leaning towards more and more these days.

Goodbye to Berlin is a product of it’s time but there’s much that strikes close to home particularly with the current political climate. We see the rise of Hitler and the Nazi’s through the stories though politics is not as much of the focus in Goodbye to Berlin than it is in Mr. Norris Changes Trains. 

You can find the book here.

Related Reviews: Mr. Norris Changes Trains, Christopher and His Kind, A Single Man



Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood


[Edit: Originally published December 18,  2016]

Mr. Norris Changes Trains is a very political book.Taking place in Germany during the Nazi rise to power those themes certainly fit the times. Mr. Arthur Norris, the titular character, is a rather… shady isn’t the right word, but he’s not entirely a person who should be 100% trusted. And those thoughts are made clear by many other characters throughout the book. He’s not a great guy and he is a little bit romanticized by the main character, William Bradshaw. 

Mr. Norris always has these plans, that he never quite tells William about about. William gets more out of him than most of his other friends do, but it’s still not everything. The last ill-fated plan, however, reveals all. Mr. Norris seems to be perpetually in some sort of trouble or doing something a little bit sketchy. Money troubles seem to be a kind of trouble that Mr. Norris has with some regularity. 

He does work for the Communist party, though he person he does work for doesn’t trust him entirely, which is ultimately, a very wise move. Like I said before this is a highly political book. Dealing with the heavy tensions between the Nazi’s and the Communists. It’s not overloaded with politics, however, nothing seems heavy handed or shoe-horned in. It’s simply that the political is part of these characters day to day lives.

There’s a gay character, featured as one could be in a book published in 1935. He’s queer-coded very well and I had him pegged well before it’s revealed at the end of the book. It is revealed, of course, after you learn that he killed himself while he was on the run from the police for offering to sell political information.

Some warnings:

Antisemitism. I think the time period and location of the story alone would let you know that this could be something that came up.

BDSM. Not something you might expect but Mr. Norris has a “girlfriend” who is a dominatrix. The BDSM stuff only comes up a couple of times, but it’s also not something everyone wants to see.

Violence, mentions of torture. This is pretty much exclusive to the last chapter. Though there are mentions of fights throughout. The final chapter deals with some of the things that started happening after Hitler took power.

You can find the book here.

Related Reviews: Christopher and his KindA Single ManGoodbye to Berlin