Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann, was barely 19 when this slim novel first appeared in German in 1925. The younger Mann would one day become known for another novel written in exile a decade later, "Mephisto," which, after being banned for libel in Germany, became a cult classic film starring Klaus Maria Brandauer. With "Mephisto," Klaus Mann encapsulated the tragic corruption of his native country in the rise and fall of an ambitious actor who prostituted his talents for the Nazis. In "The Pious Dance," his first novel, he captured the spirit of a different era, one notable less for its cynicism than its confusion.
Mann's 18-year-old protagonist, Andreas Magnus, flees a provincial town for Berlin to escape the constrictions of his bourgeois family, the failure of his attempts at painting, and the "sweet temptation" of suicide. In the "merciless" city, he is befriended by a shopworn cabaret singer who recruits him as a partner in her act; attired in sailor suit and garish makeup, the would-be artist finds himself warbling suggestive lyrics in a dive appropriately dubbed "The Mud-hole." With libidinous, well-heeled nightclub patrons, dead-end cocaine addicts and impoverished teen-age hustlers as denizens, the underworld into which Andreas descends is a menacing forecast of "Goodbye to Berlin" (one can't help wondering if Isherwood had stumbled on Mann's novel).