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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The German version of The Wire?: Berlin Alexanderplatz

Started Alfred Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, a for-the-most-part forgotten German novel from 1929 about working-class street life in Berlin, mostly known now for the 12-part (?) TV series by Fassbinder, which I'd like to see (but will read book first - I'd rather have it in my own mind before seeing how someone else envisions it - realizing that the film/TV version will then stay in and dominate my recollection of the book - but better than the other way around, my reading the book with the director's vision dominating my own perceptions). Book seems a little quaint (not only because I'm reading a very old library edition), reminding me of Dos Passos and other "social realism" of the era, lots of lists of names of places, stores, etc. and documentary-style inclusion even of logos and signage. The story itself is a bit elusive: we follow the main character Biberkopf, just out of prison (convicted of manslaughter, killing his girlfriend, a prostitute I think - serving only 5 years, kind of incredible) on his first day out of prison - in those days there were no social services, he wanders the city, encounters two Jewish guys who bring him in out of the cold and regale him with some meandering stories, not sure what role if any they'll play later, then he goes out, hires a prostitute, and then visits the sister (?) of his victim, who, surprisingly, is somewhat sympathetic to him though she warns him against her partner, who will take vengeance if he finds Biberkopf there. A jump forward a bit in time, then, and B. is trying to make a go of it selling textiles, smocks, aprons, kitchen stuff - we get a sense of how hard it is to get a footing in this world, and the rough and cut-throat style of the people competing in sales. But what we don't get is any clearly developed narrative arc or even single scenes, all of which read like snapshots, without much real development of action or direction. It does make me curious how this was developed into a narrative series.

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