First published in 1939, Goodbye to Berlin takes place in the city’s more colourful quarters, just as Hitler comes to power.
The Berlin of Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel is shabby but chic, crumbling, yet highly colourful. In fact, the characters and scenes Isherwood describes are so vibrant it’s easy to forget the world was on the brink of WWII.
This results in a rather haunting end to the book, though the way there is scandalous and sharp-tongued. Mostly this is thanks to a cast of upperclass spendthrifts and well-spoken scoundrels.
Principally there’s Sally Bowles, the temptress and con-artist later immortalised in Cabaret. There are also warring lovers Peter and Otto, and then Otto’s family, the Nowaks.
The other character of note is Berlin, which this book is really about. There’s no strong plot to speak of but, as with the cast of irrepressible and amoral characters, all can be forgiven:
“Curled up on the sofa in the big dingy room, she smoked, drank Prairie Oysters, talked endlessly of the future. When the weather was fine, and I hadn’t any lessons to give, we strolled as far as the Wittenbergplatz and sat on a bench in the sunshine, discussing the people who went past.”
Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood (1939)
Quoted edition published by Vintage Classics, 1989
Books like Goodbye to Berlin
- All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque (Germany, war)
- Good Morning, Midnight, by Jean Rhys (1930s, Europe)
- Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin (scandalous yet loveable characters)
- Mr Norris Changes Trains (also by this author)
Picture credit: Annie Spratt