LIVING FOR BRECHT: The Memoirs of Ruth Berlau by Ruth Berlau

LIVING FOR BRECHT: The Memoirs of Ruth Berlau

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Drawn from a series of interviews that editor Bunge conducted in 1959 with Bertolt Brecht's mistress/collaborator, these reminiscences show Berlau displaying a complex personality made up of equal parts arrogance and self-abasement, political idealism and sexual naivetÉ; and offers a self-portrait that proves in the end both saddening and exasperating. A somewhat dilettantish actress and Communist Party member when she first met the refugee writer in Denmark in 1933, Berlau was soon swept into Brecht's orbit. Leaving her physician husband, she joined Brecht's other ""handmaidens""--his wife, the actress Helene Weigel; associates Elisabeth Hauptmann and Margarete Steffin--who together treated Brecht like some Pasha of the Proletariat. Brecht, in turn, seems to have accepted their adulation as no more than his due. For 22 years, Berlau trailed after Brecht, to Sweden, then Finland, the US, and back to Germany in 1948, only to finally be abandoned for another woman. Embittered, she spent the rest of her life alternately reviling her former idol and attempting to reestablish their earlier relationship. She died in a nursing home in 1974, burned to death when she fell asleep with a smouldering cigarette. Berlau's writing reflects both her perhaps misplaced commitment, and her abrasiveness. She excuses neither her nor Brecht's actions; she merely defies anyone to fault them. Regarding Brecht's refusal to go to Spain during the bloody Civil War, for example, she states, ""He had no great liking for bombs."" A maddeningly wasted life, perhaps, but nonetheless an involving read.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1987
Publisher: Fromm