Sally Bowles and Co.: The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

Three works published separately, but often sold under a single cover, they comprise Isherwood's most celebrated literary gift to the world. The first, Mr Norris Changes Trains, is a lightweight, conventional novel about a young man's naïve involvement in foreign affairs in Berlin in the early 1930s. Were it not for the political weight the book took on with the events of the Second World War, it might now be overlooked altogether. The second piece, ambiguously titled The Berlin Diaries, contains the famous character sketch Sally Bowles (initially published separately from the others.) This is less a novel than a series of interrelated diary excerpts—made all the more convincing because the narrator is named Christopher Isherwood—but where the events are barely fictionalised. Taken together, these pieces spotlight the unfolding tragedy of pre-war Berlin and give a fascinating glimpse into the coming horrors firsthand. In examining the psyche of a once powerful nation burning with resentment over the burdens placed on it by the Treaty of Versailles, Isherwood describes the Berliners of his day as people who “could be made to believe in anything or anybody.” At times the book is so eerily prophetic it seems it must have been written after the war rather than before. Clearly, the writing was on the wall for all who dared to read. It is a cautionary tale to the world, and one I finished with regret.



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