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LOST YEARS by Christopher Isherwood


A Memoir 1945-1951

by Christopher Isherwood, edited by Katherine Bucknell

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-06-118001-7
Publisher: HarperCollins

A distanced memoir, mostly chronicling happenings among the gay literati half a century ago.

Isherwood (1904–86), best known as the author of The Berlin Stories (on which the musical Cabaret is based), was a careful diarist who catalogued his sexual experiences, literary encounters, and spiritual realizations with equal vigor. During the years 1945 to 1951, however, when he lived in New York and California, working in film and studying Hinduism, he made only a few jottings. Long after, when he revisited these years from the winter of his life, Isherwood decided to reconstruct their events in diary form—referring to himself (in recognition of this invention two decades and more after the fact) in the third person. Isherwood is fond of the bitchy putdown, the catty aside, and the bon mot for its own sake—as when he recalls his reaction to hearing of Franklin Roosevelt’s death on Thursday, April 12, 1945 (“Good—that means we’ll get the weekend off”). He is less flippant, however, five years later, when at the outbreak of the Korean War he worries that the conflict will escalate into World War III—and “that he might swing over from alarm into thick-skinned indifference.” Portions of this diary are very nearly pornographic, and definitely not for the easily shocked; Isherwood’s intention seems, in 1971, to have been to proclaim his homosexuality to anyone who would listen in those dawning years of the gay liberation movement, and his program carries through these pages. Of special interest to literary scholars are his accounts of friendships and rivalries with the likes of Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, and Truman Capote—who, as the editor observes in one of the frequent (and welcome) footnotes, could beat Humphrey Bogart at arm-wrestling.

Useful for students of gay history and of modern letters alike.