CAFE BERLIN by Harold Nebenzal


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 Superbly imagined first novel by a former Marine captain who was also the screenwriter for Bob Fosse's Cabaret, which was based on Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin. Nebenzal knows prewar Berlin like his own moles. For 12 years Daniel Saporta, a Sephardic Jew masquerading as a Spaniard named Daniel Salazar, runs the Klub Kaukasus in Berlin at the height of its decadence. And Klub Kaukasus is as decadent and colorful a cafe as you might ever hope to lose your virtue in. Especially nifty are Daniel's Turkish, Armenian, and Egyptian belly dancers (many of whom were parentally declitorized in pubescence) whose dances and orgasmically rippling bellies excite the high-styled clientele. The Klub is a fabulous success, and Nebenzal's knowledge of how to run such a club, keep the girls in line, and the show fresh is detailed with headspinning authenticity. One can't praise enough this novel's Nabokovian, termite-like detail, no matter what area of life it enters into: Middle Eastern Jewish life, German military life, the endless levels of a Pan-European capital's society, national varieties of cuisine, or the types of mentality of its characters. Daniel raises a streetwise former doorman, Lohmann, to be his second-in-command, and Lohmann's gratitude for being lifted out of the lower classes is one of the novel's most moving themes. But war comes; the club's Russian fare falls into the ersatz and makeshift; the high life departs; even the dancers are listless; and only Nazi toadies and functionaries fill the tables. Then Daniel is drafted unwillingly into helping the underground: The Germans have extended the Final Solution to the Middle East, with their Arab cohorts massacring Jews. Daniel must sacrifice his beloved Samira, a dancer, so she can become a spy servicing a Nazi pervert--and a rich scene it is when he givers her these orders. After a strong start, it gets only better.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1992
ISBN: 0-87951-458-2
Page count: 290pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1992


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