Berger, Thomas 1924–
An American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and editor, Berger is best known for his satiric caricatures of American life. He deals often with paradox, exploring the human struggle with absurdity, America's myths, and the deceptiveness of modern society. Fantasy, hyperbole, attention to detail, and a love of language are important elements in Berger's style. Little Big Man is generally considered his best work. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 5, 8, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Crazy in Berlin takes its epigraph from an old song: "You are crazy, my child; You must go to Berlin…." Title and epigraph provide a suitable focus to the shifting and multicolor meanings of the book. Private Carlo Reinhart is barely twenty-one years old when he arrives in Berlin, singular, thoughtful, and innocent, a mammoth-sized child of life's ambiguities. He leaves the city on a medical discharge from the "psycho" ward of the Army hospital. As for Berlin itself, it is a clever cynosure of the conflicts which permeate the action of the novel…. Berger, pressing his symbolism still further, makes [Berlin] the scene of a cloak and dagger story, of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence men, and of Double Agents, engaged in a monstrous mummery of illusion and reality, truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Nothing is ever what it seems to be…. There is no resolution to the contradictions it contains. Except, of course, the non-resolution furnished by grim irony, by that strange kind of comedy, black, satirical, gallows humor, which is indigenous to Berlin—recollections of the drawings and cartoons of Simplicissimus come to mind—and which qualifies the final apprehension of life in Crazy in Berlin. Baudelaire, Joyce, and Eliot, we recall, have chosen to define for us, in compelling, ironic forms, the nature of modern paralysis by a metaphor of the Unholy City: Paris, Dublin, and London. Moving in the same literary tradition, Berger now adds Berlin, in some ways a more grotesque symbol of conscience grappling with incongruity, of guilt and illusion running amuck under the leering sign of comedy. The book, in short, rests on the point where madness and humor meet.
The hero—despite all the ambiguities contained in the novel, Reinhart emerges a hero—is a medic affiliated with the Occupation Army…. [Here] is the old theme of the American abroad once again, innocence staring experience in the face again, in the shape of Nazi horrors. The facts overreach his imagination, yet his will to understand persists. When Reinhart destroys gratuitously the lovely contents of an old German mansion, he reflects: "Yes, that was surely Nazism, that passion to destroy simply because it could be got away with…. Who wouldn't be a criminal if it weren't for the police?"… Reinhart, who had hitherto thought of himself as a lover and victim without portfolio, can now whisper to himself, "once, anyway, you were not a victim."… This is a crucial point in the moral development of the novel. For the education of Reinhart can be said to consist of this: a discovery of the real import of victimization, and the further discovery that victimization in itself is not enough. To put it more baldly: the recognition of one's guilt is the beginning rather than the end of responsibility.
The tortuous process of this recognition leads Reinhart through a gallery of odd characters who exhibit in their relations all the obscure tensions and aversions of American, German, and Russian, of Communist, Nazi, and Jew. (pp. 5-7)
In this elusive narrative, of comic and absurd experience, there is a superstructure of ideology, but also an underground of erotic impulses. Between the two, the existential morality of the novel defines itself in concrete and critical actions. This is the structural principle which...
(The entire section contains 6171 words.)
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- Critical Essays