The Novelist from Berlin

Written by V. S. Alexander
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Niki is a modern German woman in 1930s Weimar Berlin.  She enjoys her fun evenings with friends at the Leopard Club smoking Manoli cigarettes and accepting the favors of the numerous men she attracts.  But life outside the nightclubs is very different.  The SA Brownshirts, with their fascist ideologies, are a menacing presence on the streets.  Niki sets her eyes on Rickard Lӓnger, a movie producer, at the club, and they soon become lovers, living together in his opulent apartment.

As the power of Hitler and the Nazi party increases, those who do not live up to the Nazi ideals are intimidated into compliance or destroyed.  Rickard must begin making propaganda movies or lose his movie production company.  His beliefs, like many other Germans, may differ from the Nazis’, but it is easier to comply.  Rickard sinks deeper into their world while Niki begins her writing career.  She writes of what she knows – the life of a modern German woman.  But this is not the Nazis’ ideal woman.  Her first book is published under a pseudonym to great popular acclaim, but with it comes the wrath of the Nazi party.  Her second book is published, stirring up more controversy and placing her life in danger if her identity is revealed.

Niki is loosely based on Irmgard Keun, an author who wrote novels about the real lives of young German women, previously not realistically portrayed in German novels.  The details of Keun’s life are vague because she was not forthcoming with details, so much of the narrative is Alexander’s imaginings.  But the historical events are accurate and depict the dilemma the Germans were up against – intimidation, threats, and bullying to comply, or to face serious consequences for resistance.  This is an engrossing story of the people who made different choices, many times when life or death was at stake.