My Life is Like a Fairy Tale

Written by Robert Irwin
Review by Jasmina Svenne

By 1945, Dutch bit-part actress and dancer Sonja Heda is finding it increasingly difficult to find roles. Not only are fewer films being made at the UFA studios outside Berlin, but her (exotic, non-Aryan looks are beginning to fade. Surely this is the time to start writing her autobiography? After all, she has met almost all the famous actors and politicians of the day. The only problem is knowing where to begin and what to leave out. But one person she is determined not to write about is Wieland – the “dark shadow” who follows her wherever she goes.

Not many writers would have the nerve to write a black comedy about Weimar and Nazi Germany, but Irwin pulls it off. The book is frequently funny, usually at the expense of its ditsy heroine, despite the reader’s awareness of how serious the situation is. Sonja’s determination to ignore anything that doesn’t fit with her world view – that she is a talented actress just on the cusp of her big break; that the war is going well and that the Jews are merely being re-educated to make them fit for the better world Hitler and his cronies are engineering – insulates her from what is really going on. It gives her a kind of innocence in a corrupt world, even though darker memories – especially of what really happened at the party on Peacock Island – keep tugging at her.

There are quite a few surreal moments in this novel – usually courtesy of prankster and performance artist Wieland – which add a dreamlike (or nightmarish) atmosphere in a book about illusion and self-delusion. A quirky and unusual view of Nazi Germany, which draws parallels between the illusions created by film and Goebbels’s propaganda machine.