Comedy in a Minor Key

Comedy in a Minor Key

3.6 26
by Hans Keilson
     
 

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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

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.

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

“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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374532857
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
08/02/2011
Pages:
144
Sales rank:
736,667
Product dimensions:
4.82(w) x 7.52(h) x 0.42(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.

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Comedy in a Minor Key 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
TDen More than 1 year ago
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.
TeechTX More than 1 year ago
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!
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teacher47 More than 1 year ago
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.
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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.
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