I loved this. It’s a series of four vignettes describing various characters the author meets whilst living in Berlin, teaching English and trying to write a novel, in the early 30’s. I began thinking it lacked a bit of substance because it’s so focussed on character rather than any real plot, but after meeting more people, the effect is that you understand the context in which it is written and, teasingly, something of the author himself. By context, of course, this means the onset of Nazism. But the startling thing is that the Nazis are first seen as a bit of a joke, even by ordinary working people, and its signs are mentioned briefly and sparingly. The author seems to live his life without any real anticipation of what is to come, as do his friends and acquaintances. This means that the last section of the book is startling, and, horrific. The author witnesses the casual violence of Nazi thugs in the streets of Berlin as the tide turns almost overnight. It feels very much that Nazi Germany rose despite the will of the people, rather than because of the will of it. It was just that no-one was strong enough to stand up to them at the time.
This book isn’t about the rise of fascism in the 1930’s, but it happens to be written by someone who was living in that period and wrote about the people he met. It’s a book about people rather than politics, and it’s only at the end that the latter takes centre stage. But even then, it’s a very personal account, and all the stronger because of it.