#19: The Berlin Stories (1945), by Christopher Isherwood

Over there, in the city, the votes were being counted. I thought, of Natalia: She has escaped — none too soon, perhaps. However often the decision may be delayed, all these people are ultimately doomed. This evening is the dress-rehearsal of a disaster. It is like the last night of an epoch.


Christopher Isherwood, born in 1904 to a prosperous English family, dropped out of medical school, renounced his middle-class upbringing, and followed his friend and mentor W.H. Auden to Berlin in 1929, a place synonymous with decadence, where the public attitude toward homosexuality was far less restrictive.

His four-year sojourn produced a pair of “documentary novels” that Otto Friedrich in his history of pre-Nazi Berlin Before the Deluge called “a matchless portrait of the city.” Eight decades later, those novels have retained their potency and historical value.

Even after Isherwood left Berlin in 1933, he seemed to know his window for capturing his experiences was closing and began writing with no little urgency, as Brian Finney notes in his biography of the author:

Prompted by…alarming predictions, Isherwood lived throughout most of the 1930s quite sure that war would break out at any moment. He begged [Virginia’s husband] Leonard Woolf to publish Mr. Norris Changes Trains earlier, convinced that by 1935 it would ‘no longer have any meaning whatever’ because, as he wrote to [his friend, poet Stephen] Spender in November, ‘what with Yugo-Slavia and the Saar, I have the gravest doubts whether my novel will ever see the light at all.’

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