Sunday, October 5, 2008

On Books: Isherwood's 'Berlin' rewards a return visit

On Books: Isherwood's 'Berlin' rewards a return visit

By Scott Eyman
Palm Beach Post Books Editor
Sunday, October 05, 2008

The novels that combine to form Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories have been in print since they were written in the 1930s, but New Directions has a new edition with a foreword by Armistead Maupin. When I read the Isherwood novels originally, I was so impressed by his command of tone and setting that I barely noticed how frankly gay they were. The sexuality seemed subsumed by Isherwood's purring yet ingenuous and open voice, and the fascinating procession of characters that paraded in front of his accepting gaze.

And when I sat down to reread the new edition, damned if the same thing didn't happen.

Put in a larger context, of course, these were - and remain - astonishing books: brave, forthright, utterly matter-of-fact and compulsively readable. Autobiography transformed into literature by language, emotion and the luck of the spectacular setting of Weimar Berlin, just before the fall.

Maupin's introduction involves a pilgrimage with Ian McKellan to the apartment house in Berlin where Isherwood lived, now marked with a plaque, as well as his own friendship with the writer.

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