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 must have been around twelve midnight last night that I felt something wonderful happening inside of me. I was in bed — I had meant to wash my feet, but I was too tired after that hectic night the day before, and hadn’t I told Therese: “You don’t get anything out of letting yourself be talked to on the street. You owe yourself some self-respect, after all.”
Besides, I already knew the program at the Kaiserhof. And then all this drinking — I had trouble getting home all right, and it’s never easy for me to say no in the first place. “The day after tomorrow, then,” I told him. But no way! A guy with knobby fingers like that and always just ordering the cheap wine from the top of the menu, and cigarettes at five pfennigs apiece — when a man starts out that way, where is it going to end?
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