The Artificial Silk Girl
First published in 1932, Irmgard Keun’s The Artificial Silk Girl became a runaway bestseller in its native Germany. And yet, only the following year, with the rise of the Third Reich, this wholly nonpolitical book was banned for endorsing tolerance.
Doris is an aspiring actress in Cologne with a Rebecca Bloomfield love of expensive things. She’s looking for nothing more serious than a good time and a boyfriend who lasts longer than a night. After falling in love with a fur coat in a cloakroom one night, she steals it and flees to Berlin. She hopes the fur coat will be the lucky charm to change her fortunes and land her either an acting gig or a wealthy man. But Berlin isn’t as glamorous as she hoped, and as she struggles to survive, the fur coat becomes the only thing she can depend on.
Though in this new edition, Keun is compared to authors like Candace Bushnell and Sophie Kinsella; I didn’t see it. Keun’s story is darker, her writing almost Joycean in style. Although we see Doris as frivolous and flighty, Keun also forces us to see the seamy underside of prewar Berlin. The translation, though, really tried to push us into the mindset of a lighthearted contemporary novel. The modern American slang chosen by the translator for this purpose pulled me out of the story and, in my opinion, did a disservice to Keun and her artistry.