This is one of my favorite books. My uncle gave me a copy when I was in high school, and I have re-read it every couple years, ever since.

Isherwood is better known for Berlin Stories, a semi-autobiographical work on pre-Nazi Germany which became the basis for Cabaret.

Prater Violet is a semi-autobiographical account of the young Isherwood was hired to write the screenplay for a relentlessly fluffy Ruritanian musical comedy, Prater Violet, to be shot in London in 1934.

The director, Friedrich Bergmann, is a Jewish intellectual who has left his family back in Austria. Upon first meeting Isherwood, Bergmann remarks, "I am sure we shall be very happy together. You know, already, I feel absolutely no shame before you. We are like two married men who meet in a whorehouse."

Prater Violet, the novel, is largely a character study of Bergmann, who sees both the tragedy and absurdity of his situation, pouring his energy into a ridiculous comedy while danger looms over his family and the world. It is also, quite genuinely, a hilarious backstage comedy about filmmaking, so the movie within the book and the book itself are perfect reflections of each other. The character sketches are dead-on, and the prose is marvelous.

If that was all the book was, I would have liked it a lot. But it's more than that. I'll put what made me fall in love with it, and makes it endlessly re-readable, behind a cut. It's not a plot twist in any conventional sense, but it did surprise me. I'd love to keep it a surprise, to allow you to discover it for yourself.

Since I know what you're all thinking: nobody in the book dies in the Holocaust, or dies at all. It's surprising more for stylistic and thematic reasons.

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Prater Violet


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