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.
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.
Excerpted from The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun. Copyright © 2011 by Irmgard Keun. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Irmgard Keun
Irmgard Keun was born in Berlin in 1905. She published her first novel, Gilgi--A 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.
“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.” —Elle.com