[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 Kind, Goodbye 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