“I am a camera with its shutter open.” There is something unmistakably 20th Century about this, the opening line to Goodbye to Berlin. In their coolness and clarity and melancholy detachment these words express more about a moment in time than most entire novels do. Berlin Stories is not quite a novel; it’s actually two short ones stuck together, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin. But they form one coherent snapshot of a lost world, the antic, cosmopolitan Berlin of the 1930’s, where jolly expatriates dance faster and faster, as if that would save them from the creeping rise of Nazism. One of Isherwood’s greatest characters, the racy, doomed Sally Bowles, took center stage in the book’s musical adaptation, Cabaret, but the theatrical version can’t match the power and richness of the original.
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