Artificial Silk Girl / Edition 1

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The Artificial Silk Girl is a portrait of the life of a young German woman at a time when the force of modernity in the Western world was at its most potent: with technology exploding and women freely entering the workforce, a new and frightening sense of existential individuality emerged. In the days before the Nazis came to power and suspended the development of German culture, Doris is a character whose irony and psychological insight startingly mirror those of her contemporaries in France, England, and America.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First published in 1932, this unusual novel might well have been subtitled "Social Climbing Through Bed-Hopping in the Last Days of the Weimar Republic." Initially a commercial success, it was soon banned by the Nazis for the racy, irreverent musings of its narrator, Doris, an office worker who decides that her best chance of improving her lot is to exercise her considerable libido as she tries to find a rich Mr. Right. Her strategy succeeds for brief periods, but Doris also goes through several down-at-the-heels phases as her various affairs come apart; at a particularly perilous moment, she is almost forced into prostitution. Her most consistent candidate for true love is a man named Hubert, who wanders in and out of her life. When he disappears, Doris takes a stab at life in the theater before a problematic affair ends that venture. Doris's frank, outrageous comments on the foibles of her various suitors keep things entertaining until the one-note romantic plot begins to wear thin. Readers may be disappointed that Keun (1905-1982) has little to offer on the politics of the era, save for her portrayal of a brief date in which Doris gets rejected when she pretends to be Jewish. That lacuna aside, this is an illuminating look at the much-mythologized social and sexual mores of Weimar Germany. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
A young girl navigates interwar German society and the expectations—or lack thereof—placed upon women, in this poignant, melancholy novel from the late Keun (1905–1982). Doris is experienced in the ways of pleasing men, but knows little of the world. She decides to keep a journal, not to chronicle her life but to create a story in which she is the star. She starts out vain, whiny, and materialistic, desiring only fame and wealth and seeking it tirelessly from rich if otherwise undesirable men. Doris, believing this is the best route to a comfortable future, even lauds herself for her "ambition." But the Berlin she comes to know is deeply troubled, riddled with unemployment and poverty, and she's unaware of still darker times to come. As political tensions flare up, Doris flirts with prostitution, hunger, and homelessness, emerging a wiser, if somewhat jaded, young woman. This, Keun's second novel, was originally published in 1932 to great acclaim but was banned one year later, and while not overtly political, the novel does take an unsparing look at gender and opportunity Germany just before the Nazis took control. Doris's heartbreaking story of dashed hopes is one that still has the power to affect and inspire. (June)
From the Publisher
“A young girl navigates interwar German society and the expectations—or lack thereof—placed upon women, in this poignant, melancholy novel from the late Keun… [This] heartbreaking story of dashed hopes is one that still has the power to affect and inspire.” —Publishers Weekly

“Damned by the Nazis, hailed by the feminists ... a truly charming window into a young woman’s life in the early 1930s” —Los Angeles Times
The Artificial Silk Girl follows Doris into the underbelly of a city that had once seemed all glamour and promise ... Kathie von Ankum’s English translation will bring this masterwork to the foreground once more, giving a new generation the chance to discover Keun for themselves.” —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781892746818
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Irmgard Keun was born in Berlin in 1905. She published her first novel, GilgióA Girl Just Like Us, in 1931. Her second novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, instantly became a bestseller. After the war, she resumed writing under the name of Charlotte Tralow, enjoying only modest success until her early works were rediscovered and reissued in the late 1970s. She died in 1982 in Cologne.

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Read an Excerpt

It was a dark morning and I saw his face in bed, and it made me feel angry and disgusted. Sleeping with a stranger you don’t care about makes a woman bad. You have to know what you’re doing it for. Money or love.
   So I left. It was five in the morning. The air was white and cold and wet like a sheet on the laundry line. Where was I to go? I had to wander around the park with the swans, who have small eyes and long necks that they use to dislike people. I can understand them but I don’t like them either, despite the fact that they are alive and that you should take pity on them. Everyone had left me. I spent several cold hours and felt like I had been buried in a cemetery on a rainy fall day. But it wasn’t raining or else I would have stayed under a roof, because of the fur coat.
   I look so elegant in that fur. It’s like an unusual man who makes me beautiful through his love for me. I’m sure it used to belong to a fat lady with a lot of money—unfairly. It smells from checks and Deutsche Bank. But my skin is stronger. It smells of me now and Chypre—which is me, since Käsemann gave me three bottles of it. The coat wants me and I want it. We have each other.
   And so I went to see Therese. She also realized that I have to flee, because flight is an erotic word for her. She gave me her savings. Dear God, I swear to you, I will return it to her with diamonds and all the good fortune in the world.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted July 31, 2011


    An engaging and relevant portrait of greed, the inevitable decline of excess, and the lessons waiting. Told with rare creativity and clarity. I'm glad this novel was unearthed. Ignore the publisher's marketing -- this novel is nothing like *Sex and the City.* It easilny ranks with *Gatsby.*

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