Matter of fact in tone, old fashioned in outlook and yet contemporary in its unflinching scrutiny of life abroad, Mr. Isherwood laid out his times in the foreign world of Berlin, the odd, gay, sometimes sad and searching individuals and the growing political unrest and horror of the rising Nazi party. We read how the people of Berlin ignored the rising Nazi threat while attempting to go about their ordinary lives and Mr. Isherwood’s position as the unblinking observer, a man who tried to write a novel while negotiating the slippery emotional landscape.
We never feel that Mr. Isherwood was in any personal danger from the rise of the Third Reich. He was, after all, a foreigner, an Englishman not caught up in the political affairs of the people around him. Yet he credibly wrote out the rising sense of danger amid startling complacency, showing how citizens could live in a war zone and yet conduct business as usual: the ones who were deliberately blind to politics, the ones who dismissed the Nazis as ineffectual at best or comical at worst and the ones who were determined to survive no matter what, who changed their politics, votes, viewpoints and opinions at the drop of a hat in order to maintain favor with the ruling party, no matter what it might have been.
It is a bracing and appealing look at another world, a world teetering on the edge of an abyss and, perhaps, a chilling reminder at how easily any people could topple simply through blind and willful ignoring of the signs of oppression or blatant threats against their neighbors.
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