A famous novel, that to a new audience is probably more known as the musical Cabaret. This book was a very positive surprise for me. All I knew was that Cabaret is based on the novel, but it is so much more. It is a semi-autobiographical account of Isherwood's time in Berlin during the 1930s. It describes the pre-Nazi Germany during the Weimar Republic.
The novel is really six short stories that are connected. They are titled: "A Berlin Diary" (Autumn 1930), "Sally Bowles" (Cabaret), "On Ruegen Island (Summer 1931), "The Nowaks", "The Landauers" and "A Berlin Diary" (Winter 1932-33). Isherwood is the narrator and the stories describes the situation in the country and the wild array of people he meets. They are all fascinated, outsider kind of characters and give the novel its base.
Sally Bowles is an Englishwoman who sings in a local cabaret and she goes through life with her court of admirers. A total free spirit, or is it her way of coping with an uncertain world? Frl. Schröder, the landlady, another kind of free spirit, living in her own world of how it should be, and who is who. The other tenants of the house, as well as the poor, working class Nowak family, with his friend Otto and the rich and successful Jewish family Landauer.
It is all set against the turbulent times of Germany and it is very well described in a low key. Slowly, slowly we see how life changes for the people we have gotten to know. The first adaptation of the book was called "I am a camera" and this is in a way a very good title. Isherwood is the camera. Through the lens he sees what is happening around him, but, although he cares about the people he meets, he is able to leave whenever he wants.
I read the book in a day, and I must say it was difficult to put it down. Isherwood transfers you to the times which seems unreal in a way. Maybe this is how it is in a society which is about to change and where people do not really know what the outcome will be. Trying to do the best they can to survive. Very well written account of the times. It takes you away to the streets of Berlin and its inhabitants.