Snapshot in time

"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking"
a quote from the opening paragraphs of Christopher Isherwood's wonderful Goodbye to Berlin. Goodbye to Berlin was the inspiration for the stage play I am a camera, which later metamorphosed into the musical Cabaret.

This was one of my favourite books as a teenager, I read and re-read it so many times. However it's now some years since my last reading, and it was lovely to come back to an old friend, and find them just as you remembered. The real charm of Isherwood's semi-autobiographical set of short stories and novellas is that he is indeed a camera. Much of the time he is quite unjudgemental, just commenting on what he sees, and what is going on around him. He mixes in a wide variety of Berlin society of the early '30s ranging from wealthy business owning Jewish families, whose world is on the verge of crashing down around them, to the ordinary seemingly unpolitical Berliners, who by the end of the novel will be speaking reverently of Der Fuhrer.

It truly is an amazing snapshot of society at a time of great change, which will ultimately lead to horrendous destruction. The characterisation in the novel is superb, with even minor characters delightfully developed. And what a cast of characters - from the doomed Bernhard Landauer, and his naive cousin Natalia, to the deliciously decadent Sally Bowles. But it's Berlin itself, that fabulous city at the centre of the Weimar Republic, which shines through. And through Isherwood's wonderful writing, you too are standing at his side travelling through the weird world of the dying days of Weimar Berlin.


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