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The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun
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The Artificial Silk Girl (1932)

by Irmgard Keun

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English (8)  Dutch (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Das kunstseidene Mädchen was Keun's second novel, published shortly before she was banned in Germany, and is still her best-known work. Like Gentlemen prefer blondes, it's in the form of a diary-style first-person account by a working-class young woman on the make. Doris has been taught by the cinema to expect more from life than invisibility as an office worker or the downtrodden existence of a working-class housewife, and she's got a pretty good idea of how to achieve the glamour she longs for (she's a brunette, so her role model is Colleen Moore, rather than Lorelei Lee). And she gets pretty close, several times. But this isn't the comic world of Anita Loos or Helen Fielding; Doris lives in the Germany of Berlin Alexanderplatz and Brecht's "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral", where unemployed people run a very real risk of starving to death and there's only the finest of lines separating a young woman on the make from prostitution and violent crime. We realise pretty soon that Doris is operating without a safety net. Whatever she does, she is always living on her nerves, and one wrong answer, one lie that is found out, will send her back - at best - to spending the night in a railway waiting-room.

This may be a very funny book, and it's one you could easily shelve under "chicklit", but it's also a book with tough messages about class and gender and what happens when illusions meet hard social realities. The view of the world it transmits is definitely not one that the Nazis would have been comfortable with. ( )
  thorold | Oct 12, 2016 |
The history of this book is as interesting as the story itself. Keun wrote the book in 1932- it was a best seller but the Nazis blacklisted it in 1933. The author left Germany but eventually had to return and hide during the war. The story is written as a diary by a young woman who is amoral. poor and scrambling to get by- she has a brief career in a theatre, ends up stealing a coat and moving to Berlin. Doris exists by living with those who are as desperate as she is with very little in possessions or a job. Doris has been described as similar to the heroines in [Gentlemen Prefer Blondes]. However, the reality of Doris is one of brief encounters with men who she stays with and many spells of homelessness. Her only touching relationship is with a blind veteran of the First World War. Keun is a relevant voice of Germany between the wars. ( )
1 vote torontoc | Sep 30, 2012 |
First published in Germany in 1932, Keun's book documents a year in Berlin in the dying days of the Wiemar Republic through the eyes of the seventeen year old Doris.

At the start of the book Doris works as a typist; she's poorly paid, undereducated and not particularly competent. Her father is a drunk, so to avoid violence she hands over most of her wage to him. She spends her spare time in restaurants and bars, paid for by the men she picks up.

When Doris loses her typing job, she becomes a stage extra and fantasises about becoming a filmstar. She steals a fur coat and runs away to Berlin. There she tries to get work in films, but is reduced once again to finding men to pay her way.

The Artifical Silk Girl has been compared to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but Doris' helplessness reminds me more of Jean Rhys' heroines, drifting from man to man in a corrupt and threatening world, and drowning their sorrows in booze . Unlike Rhys' women though, Doris is not yet defeated.

The fascination of The Artifical Silk Girl lies in its descriptions of Berlin in the late twenties. The streets are full of unemployed. Uniformed thugs take over clubs and restaurants, causing the customers to flee in fear. Racism is rife; people are already talking about getting rid of Jews.

Keun herself escaped Germany for Belgium, where she spent two years with Joseph Roth. She re-entered Germany under a false name and spent the war years there in hiding.

I thought this books was well worth reading, but have a few quibbles about the translation. Doris admires America, so I'm assuming the original book contained some American slang. Unfortunately the translator has chosen to render it in the American of today and the recent past. I doubt that Americans were calling people "losers" during the Great Depression, and they certainly hadn't heard of "Women's lib." ( )
4 vote pamelad | Jan 8, 2012 |
büromädchengeplapper aus dem deutschland der 1930er jahre, sprachlich eine genuß, inhaltlich halt genau das: geplapper; wobwi man schon mitkriegt aus der zeit, die leute in armut, die politische situation
  karolineline | Jan 23, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Keun, IrmgardAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ankum, Katharina vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raidt, GerdaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Das war gestern Abend so um zwölf, da fühlte ich, dass etwas Großartiges in mir vorging.
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The story of Doris, beautiful and striving, who vows to write down all that happens to her as the star of her own life story. But instead of scripting what she hopes will be a quick rise to fame and fortune as either an actress or the mistress/wife of a wealthy man, she describes a slow descent into near prostitution and homelessness. Prewar Berlin is not the dazzling and exciting city of promise it seems; Doris unwittingly reveals a bleak, seamy urban landscape.… (more)

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