Six international travellers made up of two Italians, two Japanese an American and an Australian form a group while in Berlin. They meet regularly in empty apartments and share stories of themselves which they call “speak memories”. Each of the members is familiar with the work of writer Vladamir Nabokov (author of Lolita), who lived in Berlin in 1925 and wrote a short story called “A Guide to Berlin”. The strangers become friends and yet there’s always a polite respect within the group - rules of the meetings seem to be implied, not overtly expressed. Berlin is the perfect winter host of the gatherings. The friendships evolve, and Cass, the Australian forms a close bond with Italian Marco. Then unexpected and devastating incidents pull the whole group, shell-shocked, apart.
A Guide to Berlin was written in Berlin by Gail Jones during an “Artists Fellowship”. The wonderful descriptions of the city during winter really make Berlin like the 7th member of the group. The city is fascinating – icy cold, snowy cold, bleak and grey, with reminders of its dark history making appearances here and there. There is a quiet assuredness to the characters - having a love of words and stories and with secrets which they may or may not reveal in their “speak memories”. The Nabakovian events which bring about the end of the group are surprising and satisfying.
A guide to Berlin is unique and wonderfully written. Highly recommended.