Introduced by Frank Whitford
Illustrated by George Grosz
The seedy decadence of inter-war Berlin is brought to life in a series of six short stories, illustrated with a selection of images by contemporary German artist George Grosz.
In the opening story of the semi-autobiographical Goodbye to Berlin, Isherwood writes: ‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.’ But he does himself scant justice: he is not simply an observer, but a writer of immense skill and a master of the unexpected angle. As the critic Walter Allen has said, his originality ‘is to show us the collapse of German civilization obliquely, through characters eccentric or bizarre, characters who for one reason or another – sexual, racial, economic – are lost’.
Goodbye to Berlin is made up of six short stories – one of which stars Sally Bowles, who would go on to become the iconic figure at the heart of the musical Cabaret – but the collection has the unity of a novel, capturing the decadence of Berlin and the growing menace of Nazism. Isherwood reveals the city through searing snapshots, capturing a vibrant society pulsing with nightlife 24 hours a day. The sleazy bars, the jazz, the alcohol and the sex are brought to life with his prose, and each conversation carries the uneasy tension of a people hoping to avoid the inevitable.
Christopher Isherwood was born near Manchester in the north of England in 1904, and was a novelist, playwright, screen-writer, autobiographer, and diarist. He was the grandson and heir of a country squire, and his boyhood was privileged. Nevertheless, he suffered the peculiarly English privations of distant parents, attending boarding school from the age of eight, and the loss of his father in the Great War. In part as a riposte to his family circumstances, he formed, from his earliest years, intimate and creative friendships with a vast range of personalities from all walks and classes of life.
In 1929, Isherwood moved to Berlin where he taught English, dabbled in communism, and enthusiastically explored his homosexuality. His experiences there, notably his friendships with Gerald Hamilton, the real-life original of Mr Norris, and Jean Ross, the original of Sally Bowles, provided the material for Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939), the latter still his most famous book.
‘Isherwood is a master of the emotionally cathartic moment, funny and perspicacious’
This reissued edition is based on the version published by Folio in 1975. It features 12 black and white drawings by George Grosz, a German artist who, like Isherwood, experienced the atmosphere of inter-war Berlin first-hand. Each illustration was specially selected by art critic and broadcaster Frank Whitford, who also provided a fascinating introduction explaining his choices, and the particular pertinence of Grosz as an illustrator for Goodbye to Berlin: ‘If Isherwood provides us with the definitive literary picture of Berlin then the drawings and paintings of George Grosz are the most memorable visual record.
Grosz, like Isherwood, shows us the city reflected in the Berliners themselves: the fat businessmen in pince-nez and spats, the eccentric academics, the military, the industrial workers at home or in their factories, the obese middle-class family at table and the brothels where the girls seem as avaricious as their clients and sell their commodity as ruthlessly and hard.' A painting by Grosz, depicting the wild Berlin nightlife, forms the binding, and the spine includes a striking new font design.
‘[A] reminder of a bygone era, powerfully capturing the energy and sleaze of Weimar-era Berlin’
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