Artificial Silk Girl / Edition 1

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Overview

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

From the Publisher
Elle.com - Daily Essentials 2002

The Artificial Silk Girl
Monday, 7/29/2002

A young woman in pre-war Berlin dreams of becoming a star, but after a promising start, slowly slides into destitution. The Artificial Silk Girl follows Doris into the underbelly of a city that had once seemed all glamour and promise. Originally written in 1931 by 22-year-old German writer, Irmgard Keun, The Artificial Silk Girl became an instant best-seller. Just a year later it was banned by the Nazis, and all copies were destroyed. 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.

The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun (translated by Kathie von Ankum), $22, at booksellers nationwide.

Kirkus 2002

The Artificial Silk Girl
July 1, 2002

A particularly vivid, gritty new English translation of a 1932 novel set in Berlin between the world wars, whose expatriate author (1905-82) enjoyed early critical and popular success, incurred the displeasure of Nazi censors, spent two years as the mistress of the great Austrian writer (also an expatriate) Joseph Roth, and wrote, pseudonymously, in obscurity (having returned to Germany) until her death. Keun's once-famous novel is the defiant (and anything but confessional) "confession" of its narrator Doris, an ambitious would-be actress whose drift into petty theft, poverty, and disillusionment is observed by a sharp unsentimental eye that also provides numerous vignette-like glimpses of the seaminess and heartlessness of a vibrant city stifled by the imperatives of Nazism. As we learn from scholar Maria Tatar's helpful introduction, this was conceived as an "answer" to Anita Loos's popular potboiler "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." It's more than that: a commendably deft work of social criticism and understated character portrayal. A most worthy rediscovery.

Los Angeles Times Book Review 2002

Artificial Silk Girl
By Susan Salter Reynolds
Sunday, June 30, 2002

The Artificial Silk Girl, written in 1932 by Irmgard Keun, then 23, was blacklisted a year later by the Nazis for its anti-German portrayals of businessmen and bureaucrats. In the 1950s, it was resurrected as a feminist manifesto: the diary of a working girl in Depression-era Berlin.

Damned by the Nazis, hailed by the feminists. You'd think there's hardly anything left to say about the poor novel, except that it is a truly charming window into a young woman's life in the early 1930s.

Portland Phoenix 2002

The Artificial Silk Girl

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.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

San Francisco Chronicle 2002

The Artificial Silk Girl
J. Alex Tarquinio Sunday
July 28, 2002

Christopher Isherwood and Bertolt Brecht narrated the chaos of Weimar-era Berlin, and today their "Berlin Stories" and "Three Penny Opera" are hailed as early 20th century classics. But how many people have heard of Irmgard Keun, author of "The Artificial Silk Girl," a popular German novel in 1932 that nearly vanished from literary history after the Nazis banned it a year later?

Other Press has a new English translation, the first since 1933 and an improvement on the original, which was marred by a translator who added political passages to keep pace with German politics. This could only have blemished the subtle political vision of the book's author, who was just 22. Although Keun's anti-Nazi stance is now known (she eventually fled Germany), the Nazis could not have banned her book in 1931 because of any overt political message. Rather, they must have been annoyed by the heroine's blase' attitude about her many random sexual encounters.

The book is the fictional journal of Doris, an 18-year-old runaway who goes to Berlin to seek her fame and fortune. Doris punctuates the passages in which she encounters politics and racial violence with statements of profound indifference. In the only episode in which she shows any interest in politics, she stumbles into a peace rally and is caught up in the emotion of the moment. A man takes her off to a pastry shop, where she hopes he will give her a lesson in German politics. But that is clearly not his intention, so she slips away from him. "And I was sad about not having gotten any political education. But I did have three pieces of hazelnut torte -- which took care of my lunch, which couldn't be said about a lesson in politics."

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)
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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)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 31, 2011

    Fantastic!

    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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