Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood

goodbye to berlin

Goodbye to Berlin is a Modernism/PostModernism Novel written in 1939 and set in Berlin admist the rising storm of the Nazi’s. Goodbye to Berlin is a series of short novellas within one continuous story offering the lives of a number of individuals as they live in Berlin during the rise and the power of the Nazi’s, the lives we encounter range from Christopher’s Landlady Fraulein Schroeder; Sally Bowles an English, Upper Class ‘Actress’, The Nowaks – a struggling working Class family and the Landauers, a wealthy civilized Jewish family who run Jewish stores. Each of there stories are narrated by Christopher Isherwood himself.

Firstly The form of Goodbye to Berlin is particularly interesting as I commented before it features a number of short novellas in one continuous story, in this story it also features two diary entries, one at the beginning of the novel and one at the end of the novel. It is in these diary entries that we experience Christopher’s own thoughts and feelings towards Berlin. Additionally to this the novel also features memoir/autobiographical techniques.

Ultimately Goodbye to Berlin is about the Nazi’s rise to power however it focuses less on them in a political sense but more about how their rise to power effects civilization. We experience supporters of the Nazi’s and we experience the lives of those who are victims.

Frau Nowark was a character which I found to  be rather naive, as she argued ‘When Hitler comes, he’ll show those Jews a thing or two. They won’t be so cheeky then’ But when Christopher mentions that Hitler will do more than teach them a thing or two he would merely get rid of them she argued in favor of the Jews. Expressing how they are generous and nobody truly wants them to go away. Therefore Frau Nowark is rather contradictory but her character herself is unstable as she is sent to the Sanitarium, which in itself is a rather peculiar visit which she herself finds exciting.

Through each of these characters we experience almost a rounded view of civilization of Berlin during this era, although you aren’t truly exposed to the horrors of the war and the Nazi reign you begin to see the extent of the violence. The ending is one that particularly stuck with me as Christopher reflects in his final diary entry ending the novel ‘ The trams are going up and down Kleiststraisse, just as usual. They, and the people on the pavement and the tea-cosy dome of Nollendorfplate station have an air of curious familiarity of striking resemblance to something one remembers as normal and pleasant in the past – like a very good photography. No even now I can’t altogether believe that any of this really happened’. This monologue stuck with me as it is rather raw in emotion, Christopher is stating how the events that have partaken within the last few years seem so outlandish, that he can’t believe they have happened. It is something he can’t seem to fathom that a city could feature such horror and violence aimed towards one particular set of people.

Personally I picked up Goodbye to Berlin purely because it is on my University reading list, it isn’t something I would of chosen to read myself. I found it rather difficult to get into at first but after speaking to a number of people I realised they too have struggled to get into this book. Once I was about 100 pages in, I noticed myself wanting to read it more to find out what would happen next for each character.

Christopher Isherwood is to  me a reliable narrator however he is kind and as he is against confrontation he does seem to edit what he says and thinks in order to avoid it at all costs. From the start of the novel I found him to remind me of Nick from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. You may find this comparison to be rather odd however it was the aspect of being almost ‘an outsider looking in’. Christopher was present in the lives of these characters to tell their stories as Nick was.

I would give Goodbye to Berlin 3/5 stars as although I found myself enjoying it more to the end of the novel, it isn’t really my cup of tea. Therefore my rating is based on preference, likability and how I found my reading experience. Christopher Isherwood is a fabulous writer and I would recommend Goodbye to Berlin for those who not only enjoy classics but would like to find out more about the Nazi’s in terms of how they effected the people of Germany whilst getting more than one point of view.

If you are interested in reading Goodbye to Berlin please click on the following links:

Amazon – Goodbye to Berlin

Book Depository – Goodbye to Berlin

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