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Isherwood, Christopher

berlin book war stories

(British, 1904–87)

Christopher Isherwood maintained that his works amounted to a fictionalized autobiography. They draw upon his life and times in pre-war Berlin and post-war America, and reflect his friendships, politics, adoption of Eastern religious beliefs and pacifism, as well as increasingly open depiction of gay lifestyles. His prose is witty and engaging, typically placing relationships in the context of current political upheavals, as in Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and his best-known book, Goodbye to Berlin (1939), both set in the last years of the Weimar Republic before the Nazi takeover. The latter stories were freely adapted by John van Druten as Cabaret, the musical and film starring Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles. In the Berlin stories many of the characters are homosexual, and either communist or Nazi sympathizers; the double-dealing Arthur Norris is presented as charmingly eccentric by the narrator. Several of the gay hustlers from the Berlin years reappear in a later book, Down There on a Visit (1962). The narrative is in four sections, linked by the narrator's younger self as it moves from 1928 to 1953, depicting the changing nature of memory and identity as well as Isherwood's experience in the film industry and as a conscientious objector. A Single Man (1964) describes in loving detail the last day in the life of an expatriate English professor in Los Angeles, reflecting upon his dead lover, friends, and students, with a quietly moving detachment.

E. M. Forster, Adam Mars-Jones  JS

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