Paul Haspel's Reviews > Goodbye to Berlin

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
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Jan 27, 12


In the last years of Germany's Weimar Republic, life was emphatically not a cabaret, as Christopher Isherwood makes eminently clear in Goodbye to Berlin. Published in 1939, the first year of World War II, Isherwood's book consists of six stories set between 1930 and 1933. Interestingly, Christopher Isherwood sets up as his first-person narrator a young Englishman named -- Christopher Isherwood! Throughout the stories that make up Goodbye to Berlin, one is always strongly aware that all of the people whom Isherwood encounters -- whether because of religion, sexual orientation, democratic political beliefs, or simply a perceived "bohemian" lifestyle -- will become targets once the Nazis seize power. In a way, the book is all about what will happen after the book is over. If the name of one of the book's main characters, the flighty and flirtatious young Englishwoman Sally Bowles, sounds familiar, there is a good reason for that: Sally Bowles is the name of Liza Minnelli's character from the Broadway musical and Bob Fosse film Cabaret (1972), both of which were based on Isherwood's stories. As the book ends, Hitler's takeover is complete, jackbooted Nazis are marching in celebration, and a despairing Isherwood is packing to leave Berlin. The last words of the book are, "Even now I can't altogether believe that any of this has really happened..." Seventy years later, walking along the Kurfürstendamm in what I still find myself calling West Berlin, I could understand Isherwood’s expressions of disbelief. The events of the time of the Nazi takeover still have a seemingly unreal quality; and Isherwood does us all a service in capturing the horrifying reality of the time when Germany sank into the evil and madness of Nazism.
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