Couple of years ago, I read " A Singleman" and I was hugely impressed with this writer. It was JP who suggested I should be reading his 'Berlin Stories'. Mr.Norris Changes Trains, is an impressive book, while I have not read the other, Goodbye to Berlin. English born writer spent many years in Berlin, in the early thirties, witnessing the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power and his books can give us remarkable insight to the socio-political undercurrents of Berlin, prior to the World War II.
Mr.Norris changes trains also focusses on the political scene of Germany, with the increasing influence of the Nazis, the persecution of the Communists, the French and English spy works in a subtle story telling. At the outset this looks like typical fiction focusses on the idiosyncrasies of one Arthur Norris and the narrator William Bradshaw ( the middle name of the writer himself) , the English expatriate in Berlin, who acquaint Norris during a train journey to Berlin. Mr.Norris, with his classy mannerisms, his lifestyle that suits the upper class with his fine tastes of food, drink and women manages to put up a great show to his new friend with all its grandeur. Bradshaw, lives in a small room , earn his living from teaching English, it awed by Norris and his way of living. It was evident that all that was shown up front has some thing cooking up underneath. Norris, supposedly doing some business with his associate Schmidt , seems to be hitting rough weather. Leaving Berlin, norris seems to have found new home at Paris, and it was only after amassing sufficient amount of money, he returns to Berlin.
Schmidt is having his way around Norris, evidently black mailing his and threatening him. Norris, manages to convince Bradshaw for a favour with his aristocrat friend Baron Pregnitz, for a meeting with a mysterious Margot from France, in a Swiss ski resort, which potentially bring fortunes to Norris. Bayer, the Communist leader of Berlin, summon Bradshaw from Switzerland and reveals the secret nature of Norris' business with the French intelligentsia. Newly crowned Nazi leadership is tightening their hook on Norris and the communists ( who, including their leader Bayer were executed by Hitler's police) and Bradshaw prepare Norris for his eventual escape from Berlin. However, as the title reveal, the journey does not end for Norris as he moves from one continet to other from one country to other. Novel ends with a quote from the post card that was sent by Norris, from Rio to Bradwhaw " Tell me, Willian...what have I done to deserve all this ?"
It isn't the mysterious nature of Norris and the revelation of Bradshaw about the clandestine activities of him that makes the book interesting. It is the subtle moods of the situation in Germany at that time of writing the book. The book was written and published in 1935, while Hitler was rising to power. Isherwood does not try to hide the names and places of people in the political and power centers. He also observe the minute changes in the social structure, the Jews, the gaining of Aryan superiority , the dwindling influence of Communists, the spy network and the secret services.
The style and language is perfect, with the characterisation of Norris and his prudent ways. However, you are constantly reminded of the the style that was associated with the first half of the twentieth century. Good book, easy read, but I recommend 'A Singleman' to this.----------------------------------------------------
Mr Norris Changes Trains ( 1935 )