Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Christopher Isherwood

Goodbye to Berlin

Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood

Loved this! Goodbye to Berlin is split into six stories that make up a diverse picture of Berlin.

A Berlin Diary (Autumn 1930): Christopher Ishwerwood replaces William Bradshaw as narrator of the book. It is hard to read Goodbye to Berlin as anything other than autobiographical. The book begins with a diary that reads like an autobiography, featuring many of the characters that lived in the same building as Mr Norris in Mr Norris Changes Trains. It is a witty portrait of Berlin’s eccentric and bohemian types.

Sally Bowles: Famously based on Jean Ross, her fictional alter ego is an english socialite who singes in cabaret clubs. She charms Isherwood with her catty and shocking conversation and liberal attitude. She gets accidentally pregnant, has an illegal abortion, falls in love with con-men and permanently expects her big break to be just around the corner. She is oblivious to politics and language to the point of being hilarious; it is surprising how little the political climate affects the foreign community in Berlin.

On Reugen Island: This story contains the first signs that Isherwood is aware of the burgeoning problems of Naziism. The holiday resort has children singing nazi anthems and swastika flags on beach huts. However the main focus is the relationship between two men Isherwood is staying with: Peter and Otto. The reference to the relationship emphasises the men’s status as outsiders.

The Nowaks: As money becomes a problem Isherwood moves in with the Nowak family. This story shows the poverty that contrasts to the cabaret clubs and champagne socialism.

The Landauers: As the Nazis are elected, the destruction of Jewish properties reminds Isherwood of a prominent Jewish family he met when he first arrived in Berlin. He first befriends the daughter Natalie, with whom he has a very sweet relationship based on novels, cinema and amusing language barriers. He eventually loses touch with her after introducing her Sally Bowles. He gets to know Bernard Landauer who has a very independent life in Germany’s countryside. As time goes by the family gets death threats, and Isherwood finds out Bernard has died. Officially, the cause is a heart attack but common gossip suspects shooting or concentration camp.

A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932-3): The bad winter lowers everyone’s spirits. People are melancholy and torn between nostalgia and their uncertain future. The growing dominance of the Nazi party – people are beaten in street, Nazis go door to door collecting (demanding) money, and newspapers are nothing but a list of crimes and punishments. The mood has changed and Isherwood decides to leave Berlin.

Mr Norris Changes Trains

Mr Norris Changes Trains, Christopher Ishwerwood

This seems to be something as a warm up for Isherwood’s main event: Goodbye to Berlin, as this story shares many characters and settings. William Bradshaw is traveling through Europe to Berlin when he meets Mr. Norris on a train. Our slightly naive narrator gets sucked into the seedy life and shady business of Mr. Norris, who by contrast is eccentric but charming. This book mainly seems to be about friendship, a kind of car crash fascination that make awful people attractive and the strange types to be found in Berlin during this unique period in history.

I Love Isherwood

Sometimes I wake up in the night when it’s cold and wish he was there. You never seem to get really warm, sleeping alone.
Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin

A Single Man

A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood

It is official. I love Christopher Isherwood. A lot.

Does this suffice for a review? Maybe not, but its definitely going to be the main theme of mine. Writing so beautiful it makes your heart break. I did this the wrong way though, and did see A Single Man at the cinema when it came out, which has obviously left a big gap in between seeing and reading. But my interest was re-ignited after watching the BBC film Christopher and His Kind.

He writes very human characters, they are completely believable even when you only see snap shots of them. The narrative does create a cinematic feel – it is a very sense oriented film, even though the underlying tones of grief are almost existential. And I much prefer the more enigmatic ending the book provides. An excellent read, will be picking up more.


A few times in my life I’ve had moments of absolute clarity. When for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think… And things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present and I realise that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.
Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man