The Book Beat Reading Group selection for July is Going to the Dogs: The Story of a Moralist by Erich Kastner. The Reading Group will meet on Wednesday, July 27 at 7pm in Goldfish Tea (117 W 4th St #101, Royal Oak, MI 48067). Reading Group selections are discounted 15% at Book Beat. All are welcome!
“Graceful, vivid and distinguished…a little masterpiece of pathos and calamity.” —Michael Sadleir
Going to the Dogs is set in Berlin after the crash of 1929 and before the Nazi takeover, years of rising unemployment and financial collapse. The moralist in question is Jakob Fabian, “aged thirty-two, profession variable, at present advertising copywriter . . . weak heart, brown hair,” a young man with an excellent education but permanently condemned to a low-paid job without security in the short or the long run.
Fabian and friends make the best of it—they go to work though they may be laid off at any time, and in the evenings they go to the cabarets and try to make it with girls on the make, all the while making a lot of sharp-sighted and sharp-witted observations about politics, life, and love, or what may be. Not that it makes a difference. Workers keep losing work to new technologies while businessmen keep busy making money, and everyone who can goes out to dance clubs and sex clubs or engages in marathon bicycle events, since so long as there’s hope of running into the right person or (even) doing the right thing, well—why stop?
“Like his hero Fabian, Kästner was not a cynic as a saddened idealist; the two conditions look much the same, but the latter is more painful….Fabian is a “key novel” of the Weimar Republic in its last years. It is a notably efficient novel, with little of the metaphysical resonance of [Thomas Mann’s] Doctor Faustus or that book’s soul-searching, but offering instead a series of moral tableaux, rendered the cooler by the chapter titles, in the form of newspaper headings.” —The Times Literary Supplement
Erich Kästner (1899–1974) was born in Dresden and after serving in World War I studied history and philosophy in Leipzig, completing a PhD. In 1927 he moved to Berlin and through his prolific journalism quickly became a major intellectual figure in the capital. His first book of poems was published in 1928, as was the children’s book Emil and the Detectives, which quickly achieved worldwide fame. Going to the Dogs appeared in 1931 and was followed by many other works for adults and children, including Lottie and Lisa, the basis for the popular Disney film The Parent Trap. In 1933 the pacifist Kästner was banned from German publication and subsequently found employment as a film scriptwriter. After World War II, he worked as a literary editor and continued to write, mainly for children.