Comedy in a Minor Key

( 26 )

Overview

A penetrating study of ordinary people resisting the Nazi occupation—and, true to its title, a dark comedy of wartime manners—Comedy in a Minor Key tells the story of Wim and Marie, a Dutch couple who first hide a Jew they know as Nico, then must dispose of his body when he dies of pneumonia. This novella, first published in 1947 and now translated into English for the first time, shows Hans Keilson at his best: deeply ironic, penetrating, sympathetic, and brilliantly modern, an heir to Joseph Roth and Franz ...

See more details below
Hardcover
$21.23
BN.com price
(Save 3%)$22.00 List Price
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (94) from $1.99   
  • New (18) from $6.94   
  • Used (76) from $1.99   
Comedy in a Minor Key: A Novel

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$9.27
BN.com price

Overview

A penetrating study of ordinary people resisting the Nazi occupation—and, true to its title, a dark comedy of wartime manners—Comedy in a Minor Key tells the story of Wim and Marie, a Dutch couple who first hide a Jew they know as Nico, then must dispose of his body when he dies of pneumonia. This novella, first published in 1947 and now translated into English for the first time, shows Hans Keilson at his best: deeply ironic, penetrating, sympathetic, and brilliantly modern, an heir to Joseph Roth and Franz Kafka. In 2008, when Keilson received Germany’s prestigious Welt Literature Prize, the citation praised his work for exploring “the destructive impulse at work in the twentieth century, down to its deepest psychological and spiritual ramifications.”

Published to celebrate Keilson’s hundredth birthday, Comedy in a Minor Key—and The Death of the Adversary, reissued in paperback—will introduce American readers to a forgotten classic author, a witness to World War II and a sophisticated storyteller whose books remain as fresh as when they first came to light.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Francine Prose
The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key are masterpieces, and Hans Keilson is a genius…Although the novels are quite different, both are set in Nazi-occupied Europe and display their author's eye for perfectly illustrative yet wholly unexpected incident and detail, as well as his talent for story­telling and his extraordinarily subtle and penetrating understanding of human nature. But perhaps the most distinctive aspect they share is the formal daring of the relationship between subject matter and tone…Rarely have such harrowing narratives been related with such wry, off-kilter humor, and in so quiet a whisper. Read these books and join me in adding [Keilson] to the list, which each of us must compose on our own, of the world's very greatest writers.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
Praise for Comedy in a Minor Key

“For busy, harried or distractible readers who have the time and energy only to skim the opening paragraph of a review, I’ll say this as quickly and clearly as possible: The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key are masterpieces, and Hans Keilson is a genius . . . Although the novels are quite different, both are set in Nazi-occupied Europe and display their author’s eye for perfectly illustrative yet wholly unexpected incident and detail, as well as his talent for storytelling and his extraordinarily subtle and penetrating understanding of human nature. But perhaps the most distinctive aspect they share is the formal daring of the relationship between subject matter and tone. Rarely has a finer, more closely focused lens been used to study such a broad and brutal panorama, mimetically conveying a failure to come to grips with reality by refusing to call that reality by its proper name . . . Rarely have such harrowing narratives been related with such wry, off-kilter humor, and in so quiet a whisper. Read these books and join me in adding him to the list, which each of us must compose on our own, of the world’s very greatest writers.” —Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

“This first-ever English translation of Keilson’s gripping 1947 novel about a Dutch couple hiding a Jewish perfume merchant in their home during WWII marks a welcome reintroduction to the author’s unfortunately obscure oeuvre . . . Beautifully nuanced and moving, Keilson’s tale probes the more concealed, subtle forces that annihilate the human spirit.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Comedy in a Minor Key’s] design is so neat, spare, and geometric that to think of it is like tapping a spoon to a crystal glass.” —Yelena Akhtiorskaya, The Forward

“A brisk, engaging work of Holocaust literature that deserves to be better known.” —Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

“What Keilson had experienced, body and soul, went into this precisely composed book, which succeeds in capturing the tragedy of countless anonymous victims alongside the grotesquerie of the individual tragic case.” —Ulrich Weinzierl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The Barnes & Noble Review

From Brooke Allen's "READER'S DIARY" column on The Barnes & Noble Review


Everyone knows Anne Frank. No single figure has ever done more than this adolescent girl to make the world feel the plight of Europe's Jews during the Nazi Holocaust. Millions have read of the hidden lives she and her family led for two years in the"secret annexe" behind her father's offices, ministered to by gentile friends who brought them news and supplies. Anne's narrative is a marvelously subjective account of what it feels like to be hunted: the cramped quarters, the enforced silence, the frequently uncongenial company.

But what of the helpers -- those who risked their own skins to hide and protect these hunted Jews, people like the Gieses who tried so hard to save the Frank family? This is a subject taken up by Hans Keilson, a German-Jewish doctor who emigrated from Hitler's Germany to the Netherlands in 1936, worked in the Dutch underground during the Nazi occupation and is still, miraculously, alive to tell the tale some seventy years later. Originally published in German in 1947, Keilson's wry novella Comedy in a Minor Key was finally translated into English and published in England last year to celebrate the author's hundredth birthday. Now it is making its first appearance in the United States.

Dedicated to the Dutch pair who concealed Keilson himself during the war, Comedy in a Minor Key is the story of an unremarkable young couple, Wim and Marie, who take in and hide Nico, a Jewish perfume dealer, during the German occupation of Holland. The book's title might mystify, for of course the subject is not exactly one usually associated with comedy of any sort. But as Keilson cleverly reminds us with this gently mocking narrative, all human acts and activities have comic potential. It is the very ordinariness of the three characters' daily concerns, set so incongruously against the heroic roles fate has cast them in, that creates an uneasy humor. (In his appreciation for the absurd, Keilson shows a marked affinity with another Central European writer, Milan Kundera.) How are they to deal with the cleaning lady? The milkman? Nosy neighbors?

Wim and Marie are heroic in spite of themselves; in their own eyes, they appear merely dithering and inadequate. It had not occurred to them to join the resistance movement, but when Wim's colleague Jop approaches them secretly they readjust their vision of themselves and their role in the war effort.

"Patriotic duty," Jop had said, and the concept, which had never made the slightest impression on Wim before, much less been able to move him toward any action, sounded, now that the Netherlands had been conquered and occupied, new and full of meaning. Jop knew the people he approached: with one he talked about "a purely humane act," with another it was about "Christian charity for the persecuted," and to a third he spoke of "patriotic duty." This was how he achieved his goal, the same in every case.

The phrase that snares Marie and Wim might be "patriotic duty," but it would not be enough without the element of empathy, and this is not lacking. Thinking about Nico, Marie reflects that

       She had seen fear: the terrible helpless fear that rises up out of sadness and despair and is no longer attached to anything -- the helpless fear that is tied only to nothingness. Not fear or anxiety or despair about a person or a situation, nothing, nothing, only the exposure, the vulnerability, being cast loose from all certainties, from all dignity and all love…. And Marie understood that words like "love of your neighbor" or "national duty" or "civil disobedience" were only a weak reflection of this deepest feeling that Wim and she had felt back then: wanting to shelter a persecuted human being in their house.

So: Wim and Marie are prepared, along with the hapless Nico, to suffer major dangers and minor indignities, inconvenience, the painstaking necessity of planning every moment and every action for the foreseeable future. And then, disaster: Nico develops pneumonia and unexpectedly dies. "He had defended himself against death from without, and then it had carried him off from within." The difficulties of hosting a dead body, it turns out, are every bit as great as those involved in sheltering a live one. How to dispose of the corpse?

Wim and Marie are genuinely grief-stricken (for they had become very fond of the unhappy Nico), yet they can't suppress inappropriate thoughts and emotions.

It was practically a trick he had played on them with this death, on the people who had kept him hidden for an entirely different purpose. He didn't need to go into hiding in order to die, he could have just simply, like all the countless others….

       And then, too, there was a small, all-too-human disappointment left over: that he had died on them. You don't get the chance to save someone every day. This unacknowledged thought had often helped them carry on when, a little depressed and full of doubt, they thought they couldn't bear this complicated situation any longer and their courage failed them….

       She had secretly imagined what it would be like on liberation day, the three of them arm in arm walking out of their house…. It would give them a little sense of satisfaction, and everyone who makes a sacrifice needs a little sense of satisfaction.

The two are now obliged to perform all sorts of undignified capers to rid themselves of their defunct guest. In the process they make a serious blunder, and the penalty for harboring a Jew is death. Will their case come under the attention of a "good" policeman -- one, that is, who secretly supports the Resistance and will turn a blind eye -- or a bad one, a willing servant of the Nazi occupiers? With no way of knowing, Wim and Marie now have to go into hiding themselves: the original situation is reversed. Will they cope with incarceration any better than Nico did? Keilson provides the unpredictable answer in elegant, understated prose.

In conjunction with Comedy in a Minor Key Farrar, Straus and Giroux is also reissuing another Keilson title, Death of the Adversary -- a novel that looks at the way Hitler's rise to power was seen by European Jews at the time. Urgent moral fables, eyewitness reports from a time history cannot afford to forget, these two books should resuscitate the career of an almost-forgotten author.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374126759
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 8/27/2010
  • Pages: 135
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Hans Keilson is the author of The Death of the Adversary. Born in Germany in 1909, he published his first novel in 1933. During World War II he joined the Dutch resistance. Later, as a psychotherapist, he pioneered the treatment of war trauma in children. In a 2010 New York Times review, Francine Prose called Keilson a “genius” and “one of the world’s very greatest writers.” He died in 2011 at the age of 101.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Farrar, Straus & Giroux Reading Group Guide

Comedy in a Minor Key
A Novel
By Hans Keilson
Author of The Death of the Adversary

ISBN: 978-0-374-12675-9

Introduction
Available for the first time in English since its debut in the Netherlands in 1947, Comedy in a Minor Key introduces American readers to one of Europe’s most brilliant literary talents. Showcasing Hans Keilson’s sophisticated, timeless approach to storytelling, this well-honed novel features a darkly comic premise: a well-intentioned Dutch couple agrees to give refuge to a Jew during World War II, protecting him from certain death at the hands of Nazis. Despite Wim and Marie’s noble efforts, their guest dies anyway, of pneumonia. Through this macabre irony, Keilson explores the destruction and desolation left in Hitler’s wake, as well as the questions of mortality and its meaning raised by twentieth-century warfare. Republished in honor of the author’s one hundredth birthday, Comedy in a Minor Key examines the most essential facets of human existence.

The discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key. We hope they will enhance your experience as you explore this infinitely rich novel.

Questions for Discussion
1. What makes Comedy in a Minor Key different from other tales of the resistance that you have read? In what ways is fiction (especially wry fiction) sometimes the best means for conveying historical fact?

2. Midway through chapter ten, Hans Keilson describes Marie’s disappointment over Nico’s death: “She had secretly imagined what it would be like on liberation day, the three of them arm in arm walking out of their house. Everyone would see right away what he was from his pale face. . . . It would give them a little sense of satisfaction, and everyone who makes a sacrifice needs a little sense of satisfaction.” Is Keilson’s satire also realistic? What motivates the benevolent people you know?

3. How did the novel’s timeline affect you? How did your impressions of Nico shift as you learned about him through a series of flashbacks?

4. What makes Nico alluring to Marie? Is he at the mercy of his caregivers, or does he exert power over them in some ways? Are any aspects of his life still in his control?

5. The book’s closing line offers an image of life for Wim and Marie without Nico. How was their marriage transformed by him?

6. Keilson’s work contains many elements of twentieth-century existentialism, for which Camus and Kafka became well known. What is unique about Keilson’s perspective on human existence? What does his book say about our obligations to one another, and the nature of suffering in the world?

7. How might the story have unfolded if it had been told from Nico’s point of view? What does he think of Wim and Marie?

8. Born in Germany, Hans Keilson became a physician and was forced to flee to the Netherlands in 1936 after the Nuremberg Laws made it illegal for Jews to practice medicine in Germany. He was active in the Dutch resistance. Does Keilson’s biography shape the way you read this work, or is a novelist’s biography irrelevant?

9. Much of the tragicomedy in the novel lies in the predicament of how to dispose of Nico’s body. How did you react to this? What universal experiences are captured in these images?

10. Discuss the role of Coba, Wim’s sister. What does it mean to Marie to have Coba’s companionship and support? How is Coba different from her brother?

11. When Keilson’s novel The Death of the Adversary was named a best book of the year by Time in 1962, the magazine’s reviewer wrote that Keilson’s work examines why there was widespread ambivalence toward the Holocaust while it was unfolding. What portraits of ambivalence are offered in Comedy in a Minor Key? As Dr. Nelis fabricates a reason to call on Wim and Marie’s house, and the laundry-tag issue is resolved with the help of local police, what message does Keilson give us about ambivalence versus resistance?

12. What impressions of Judaism do the novel’s non-Jews offer? How does Marie understand Nico’s distinction between a religious identity and a cultural one?

13. The author chose to make Nico a perfumier. What is ironic about this? What do we learn about him in chapter four as he makes suggestions for Marie’s ideal scent?

14. What does Comedy in a Minor Key say about the time period during which it was written? What is the difference between reading it in 1947 as a new release, and reading it in the twenty-first century as a classic? Is there any contemporary equivalent to the genocide Nico faces in the novel?

15. What elements of Comedy in a Minor Key echo the persecution described in The Death of the Adversary? Read together, do the storylines complement or contradict each other?

About the Author

Born in Germany in 1909 and trained as a physician, Hans Keilson published his first novel in 1933. He fled to the Netherlands in 1936 after the Nuremberg Laws made it illegal for Jews to practice medicine in Germany. During World War II, he joined the Dutch resistance. Later, as a psychotherapist, he pioneered the treatment of war trauma in children. Awarded Germany’s prestigious Welt Literature Prize in 2008, he lives near Amsterdam.

Praise for Comedy in a Minor Key

“The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key are masterpieces, and Hans Keilson is a genius. . . . Rarely has a finer, more closely focused lens been used to study such a broad and brutal panorama, mimetically conveying a failure to come to grips with reality by refusing to call that reality by its proper name. . . . Rarely have such harrowing narratives been related with such wry, off-kilter humor, and in so quiet a whisper. Read these books and join me in adding him to the list, which each of us must compose on our own, of the world’s very greatest writers.” —Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

“This first-ever English translation of Keilson’s gripping 1947 novel about a Dutch couple hiding a Jewish perfume merchant in their home during WWII marks a welcome reintroduction to the author’s unfortunately obscure oeuvre. . . . Beautifully nuanced and moving, Keilson’s tale probes the more concealed, subtle forces that annihilate the human spirit.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Comedy in a Minor Key’s] design is so neat, spare, and geometric that to think of it is like tapping a spoon to a crystal glass.” —Yelena Akhtiorskaya, The Forward

“A brisk, engaging work of Holocaust literature that deserves to be better known.” —Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

“What Keilson had experienced, body and soul, went into this precisely composed book, which succeeds in capturing the tragedy of countless anonymous victims alongside the grotesquerie of the individual tragic case.” —Ulrich Weinzierl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 26 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(11)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(2)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 15, 2010

    A Great Novel

    It is amazing that this gem of a novel remained unpublished in English for so long; thankfully it was finally translated. The adjective that leaps to mind is "subtle", which may not sound like a very compelling read but it definitely is compelling and a book you won't soon forget. The subtly blunts the grim context of the story and helps make the characters very real. Despite the subtly, the plot moves quite quickly with very satisfying twists and ironies. For anyone who likes WW II novels this is an entirely unique tale and a must read. But you don't have to like historical fiction to love this book focused on an ordinary Dutch couple everyone will relate to on some level. For the impatient, it is a short read. While part of me wished there were more to enjoy, I had to concede it was perfectly crafted in its brevity.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 24, 2010

    Comedy in a Minor Key is a Major Book!

    I read this on the recommendation of a friend who lent it to me via our nooks. (LOVE that feature!) I am so grateful to her because this book is an absolute jewel. First, Damon Searls's translation is brilliantly elegant. Though I hope to find a German copy, I can't imagine any flaws in the English. It reads so well, w/ none of the awkwardness from which translations often suffer.

    On first reading (I read it twice because it is not overly long), I sensed a commonality with the writing style and themes of Camus (especially "The Stranger"), Kafka, and Beckett -- the "comedy" of the title has much in common w/ existentialism's notion of the absurd. However, Hans Keilson (a German Jewish refugee to the Netherlands who hid in the resistance) has his own take on this -- the comic absurdity in his novel does not share the bleakness or implicit futility of these other writers. My second reading made it clear how actually funny some of the story is (something also true of "Waiting for Godot"). It would make excellent theater!

    I highly recommend this book to anyone w/ an interest in literature of the Holocaust period, because it offers a very different POV than most of the "rescue" literature w/ which we are familiar. It opens a new window on that dynamic. I recommend it just as highly to anyone who just enjoys a thought-provoking, elegantly-told story. Thanks, CW, for the loan!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 8, 2011

    It Was a Comedy

    Thankfully the book was short because I didn't enjoy it. The irony of the story was rather funny, but I would not recommend this book. If you enjoy stories of WW2 and the plight of the Jewish people who went into hiding, and the people who helped hide them, then I would say read the book, only if you can borrow it from the library, or if you could share it with a Nook friend (which is not possible with many books now). I would not recommend it as a purchase. I would not recommend it for a book club discussion. Books such as Sara's Key, Hansel and Gretel, Wartime Lies, and The Invisible Bridge would be books I would recommend.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2010

    Very compelling

    This is a book that you will not want to put down. Keeping a stranger in your home for a year creates pychological and physical problems that you wouldn't expect.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)