Before Sex and the City there was Bridget Jones. And before Bridget Jones was The Artificial Silk Girl.
In 1931, a young woman writer living in Germany was inspired by Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to describe pre-war Berlin and the age of cinematic glamour through the eyes of a woman. The resulting novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, became an acclaimed bestseller and a masterwork of German literature, in the tradition of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories and Bertolt Brecht's Three Penny Opera. Like Isherwood and Brecht, Keun revealed the dark underside of Berlin's "golden twenties" with empathy and honesty. Unfortunately, a Nazi censorship board banned Keun's work in 1933 and destroyed all existing copies of The Artificial Silk Girl. Only one English translation was published, in Great Britain, before the book disappeared in the chaos of the ensuing war. Today, more than seven decades later, the story of this quintessential "material girl" remains as relevant as ever, as an accessible new translation brings this lost classic to light once more. Other Press is pleased to announce the republication of The Artificial Silk Girl, elegantly translated by noted Germanist Kathie von Ankum, and with a new introduction by Harvard professor Maria Tatar.
I feel as though I have been in the driving seat of a woman's mind during the early 1930s of pre-Nazi Germany. Not just any kind of woman, though. The protagonist, Doris, with a lack of education, is a material girl who hopes to achieve a higher status in society by garnering the attentions of successful men and sleeping her way to the top. Three of them in fact, with varying degrees of success and conclusions. It is both funny and sad.
Because it is a social critique, this novel's publication was banned by the Nazis. Mostly because of its honesty and openness regarding the subject of the book; The novel is a rich portrait of a working girl sleeping her way to the top and failing. It is relevant even today. The narrative reveals her inner thoughts and attitude towards men. A frightening prospect for the men in that era.
The protagonist's thought process is flighty – jumping from idea to idea – and until you become accustomed to that pattern you may struggle to get into the flow of the story.
The writing is really quite modern, even today. The way it has been constructed and written makes it timeless. I feel that we are fortunate that a version somehow still exists today. The story of how the book has survived the Nazi period is a tale in itself.
The novel has three distinct sections that are quite symbolic and takes place mostly in Berlin, in the first person.
Section 1 takes place at the tail end of summer.
Section 2 takes place during late autumn.
Section 3 journeys from winter into spring; finishing with hope, or so I like to think.
Hope is a good way to finish such a tale.
Sergiu Pobereznic (Amazon author)