This is a German novel written in 1936 and published in exile. Klaus Mann was the son of Thomas Mann, and he wrote this with a brother in law in mind, an actor who rejected his Communist leanings to cozen up Nazis when they first gained power. When there was an attempt to publish this in West Germany, there was a lengthy court battle because of the accusatory nature of the novel. That always seems weird to me, given people all over the world could otherwise read it.
The novel takes place in pre-war Berlin, which is a weird way to describe it since at the time of the writing, the war had not happened, but we know it, and it casts a shadow on the whole novel. Our protagonist is an actor and director of a theater company, and as the Nazis not only gain power but gain cultural influence over the country and the tide further shifts, he decides he’s going to earn the respect and regard of the president of the Reichstag, one Hermann Goering. And he does. How does he do this? By performing as Mephistopheles in a production of Goethe’s Faust. Faust is a much different experience in Goethe’s hands, compared to Marlowe’s. Marlowe’s play is pretty short, only 1485 lines (Hamlet has about 4000), and takes about an hour to perform. In contrast, Faust I by Goethe is comparable to a Shakespeare play at three plus hours, but if you were to also perform Faust II, it would run like 12 hours. So yes it’s audacious.
I am always amazed by the ways in which German officials immediately after the war could pretend to not know what was going on under Hitler’s regime. This novel offers up plenty of evidence (as does Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator).