Wednesday, August 11, 2010

book review - Prater Violet - Christopher Isherwood


"You see, this umbrella of his I find extremely symbolic. It is the British respectability which thinks: 'I have my traditions, and they will protect me. Nothing unpleasant, nothing ungentlemanly, can possibly happen within my private park.' This respectable umbrella is the Englishman's magic wand, with which he will try to wave Hitler out of existence. When Hitler declines rudely to disappear, the Englishman will open his umbrella and say: 'After all, what do I care for a little rain?' But the rain will be a rain of bombs and blood. The umbrella is not bombproof."


Christopher Isherwood knew perhaps more than most just what was coming under Hitler's leadership of Germany. Having been there when the country started to turn to the swastika he has a degree of sympathy and knowledge that makes him a good person to liaise with an Austrian film director on the eve of war.

Isherwood on one level is writing a memoir about his time in the mid thirties when he was recruited to work with larger than life film director Fredrich Bergmann who is ion semi-exile from Vienna and a weak increasing pro-Nazi and anti-semitic government.

The two manage to form a friendship despite the director's susceptibility to wild mood swings and outbursts of self importance. On the flip side he can be funny, charming and loyal to those he views as friends and supporters.

But away from the memoir of the relationship between script writer and director and film studio there is something else being described here, a world that is shortly to change forever.

It reminds you a bit of Patrick Hamilton and his description of the drinking and sing songs happening in the pubs as the war arrives and the world changes. Here the men and women who brush off the Anschluss in Austria and Bergmann's warnings of forthcoming doom are also living in a world that is about to change. They have little idea of what awaits and it is Isherwood with his Goodbye to Berlin days behind him who is all too aware that the worst case scenario might well be the one that emerges.

Written in a manner that is almost diary like with the author sharing his thoughts about this period with the reader in an easy manner the book is one that could be prone to being overlooked because it seems to talk of a specific time. But there are lessons here about how widespread the ostrich like determination to avoid facing reality is that are just as applicable today.

Beware writing off the prophet of doom just because his personality is one that can be criticised.

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