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Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson (Excerpt)

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson (Excerpt)

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3.82

(96)
|Views: 125 |Likes:
“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

2010 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

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.

Excerpted from COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY: A Novel by Hans Keilson. Published in July 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Hans Keilson. All rights reserved.
“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

2010 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

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.

Excerpted from COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY: A Novel by Hans Keilson. Published in July 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Hans Keilson. All rights reserved.

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Publish date: Jul 20, 2010
Added to Scribd: Mar 29, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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08/21/2013

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Comedy in aMinor Key 
HANS KEILSON 
Translated from the German by Damion SearlsFarrar, Straus and GirouxNew York
 
I.
“There they are again,” the doctor said suddenly,
and he stood up. Unexpectedly, like his words, the noiseo the approaching airplane motors slipped into the si-lence o the death chamber. He tilted his head to oneside, squinted his eyes hal shut, and listened.As i a small generator hidden somewhere in thehouse had started and quickly revved up to ull speed,the droning sound o the night squadron fying in grewstronger. It might also—or so it seemed at rst—becoming rom the basement, or rom the house next door. . . But it was the night bombers making themselvesheard, no doubt about it. In a wide ormation they camerom England over the beach that received the NorthSea just a ew miles away, shot out their fares to showthe planes ollowing behind them the fight path overHolland, and disappeared in the night across the east-ern border. A ew hours later they could be heard in an-other location, arther north or arther south, returning
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eapalmer_1 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
This is an extraordinary book about ordinary people (a young Dutch couple) in a terrible time (WWII). Keilson's writing is marvelous and his ability to portray the mundane amongst the exceptional is breathtaking. The humor in the book is sly and insightful.
pnorman4345 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
This novel is about a young couple in a small Dutch city hide a Jew in their hose during WWII. Their ' guest ' dies of pneumonia and , due to carelessness . they must go into hiding. The story is of how they come to understand a bit the psychological trauma of their guest.
drfp_1 reviewed this
Rated 2/5
Despite all the recent praise lavished on this novella (or perhaps because of it) I was pretty disappointed with this book. It's barely over one hundred pages but even at that length it feels drawn out. Really, this probably should have been a short story half the length. I appreciate examinations of ordinary life but this story was simply dull. I'd already grasped the idea half way through that Nico had a rough time of it staying hidden, and it was quite repetitive, no doubt due to the too ordinary main characters.Yes, the Holocaust was a major tragedy but this story failed to arouse any passions in me. Comedy in Minor Key managed to take a very emotive topic and render it surprisingly bland.
kant1066 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
The premise is simple enough. A married couple, Wim and Marie, decide to take in a Jew named Nico during World War II. In hiding him, the comfortably middle-class Wim and Marie learn what it means to live the precarious life of a Jew in 1940s Holland, in what would have otherwise been a set of rather ordinary circumstances. Soon afterwards, Nico becomes ill and eventually dies in their house, leaving the couple in the unique position of needing to dispose of a body no one can know they had there in the first place. They eventually leave him wrapped in blankets in a nearby park, but soon discover that they might have left a clue to their identity behind. Therefore, in a wonderful turn of irony, Wim and Marie are themselves forced to instantly flee their house for fear of being discovered by the police. The title is beautiful and wholly appropriate to the story. Juxtapositions are everywhere: there is the comic lightness of opera bouffe as Wim and Marie try to figure out how to get rid of Nico, but also the crushing dramatic realization of how this has all come about because of how some humans have chosen to treat others; the interplay of the quotidian as the couple go about their day-to-day existences in war-torn Holland with only the audience to find that this will one day be a place of grand historical importance. Writer Francine Prose recently wrote in a piece in the New York Times that she has come to include Dutch writer Hans Keilson in her personal list of the world's "very greatest writers." On that alone, I took up Keilson's "Death of the Adversary," and was just as impressed. Despite Time magazine's listing it as one of the ten best magazines of the year, aside Nabokov's "Pale Fire" and Porter's "Ship of Fools," Keilson unfortunately fell into obscurity in the English-speaking world. Translator Damion Searls' revivification of his work is admirable and deserved, even while I found this "Comedy in a Minor Key" to be much less rewarding than "Death of the Adversary." The former is a small, personal, intimate picture of human identity and frailty touchingly conceived, but it felt underdeveloped to me. Its size, at a mere 135 pages, gave me less time than I would have preferred to get to know Wim, Marie, and Nico. "Death of the Adversary," however, deals with looming, world-historical forces that are at work in our lives, with bigger, abstracter ideas, and was probably for that reason more compelling for me. My rating of three stars here might be a little low. I didn't know whether to go with three or four, but I can't see myself rereading it any time soon, so I chose three. I would recommend to anyone interested in Keilson that they read "Death of the Adversary," which I found to be truly spectacular.
vancouverdeb reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Comedy in a Minor Key is thoughtful , insightful, quiet read about a young married couple who take in and hide a Jewish man as part of the Dutch Resistance during WW11. In a twist of irony the couple themselves end up in hiding - and in so doing we begin to understand the psychological toll of both hiding someone from the Nazi's and the enormous psychological toll it took on the person in hiding. This is a wonderful book. A short, no fireworks read . It is all the more interesting that this book was first published in 1947, and that the author himself was a part of the Dutch Resistance. Hans Keilson was also a psychotherapist who pioneered the treatment of war trauma in children. 4 quiet , thoughtful stars.
coppers_1 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
Wim and Marie, a young couple living in Nazi occupied Holland, agree to shelter a Jew in their home. The action moves forward and back within a short period of time, during which the man they are hiding dies of pneumonia (I’m not giving anything away, it happens very early on). This is an ironic take on how they deal with this death and also their everyday, new order – a comedy of manners, in a sense. This gem of a novella, written in 1947 and only recently translated into English, is made even more powerful by the fact that the author was active in the Dutch resistance and worked as a psychiatrist, pioneering the treatment of children with war trauma.
bakersfieldbarbara reviewed this
Rated 4/5
During the Nazi occupation in Holland, Dutch people took in and hid the Jews, to save them from death by Hitler. This novelle tells how a Dutch couple had a person in their home and when he died, they had to figure out how to dispose of the body. This was a short story but one full of irony, with a surprise ending. I enjoy learning about WW2 and the horrible things that happened because of Hitler, and this was told from a viewpoint I hadn't considered. I recommend this book for history buffs or anyone curious about that time period in history.
lkernagh reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Originally published in 1947 and only recently translated into English, this short novella tells the story of an ordinary couple in a small town in German occupied southern Holland - Wim and Marie - who hide a Jew in their home during World War II for a number of months and then must later secretly dispose of his body when he dies of pneumonia. At times ironic, the story really is a psychological examination of both the hosts who risk exposure and arrest to secret the man in their home, the ordinary civilians that made up the Dutch resistance and the affects imprisonment, even self-imposed imprisonment for survival, can have on the human psyche. It is a decent story. It had a rather blase feel to it for me and really didn't develop into anything fascinating until the final pages. I was more intrigued to learn the background history of the author - a Jewish German/Dutch novelist, poet, psychoanalyst and child psychologist who recently celebrated his 101st birthday. In World War II, Keilson was part of the Dutch resistance. That experience is conveyed when reading this book.While I liked this story, I wasn't blown away by it. Maybe I need to analyze the subtly of the language for a deeper meaning in this story. I have to remind myself that his story was originally published shortly after World War II ended, in which case the story is probably in keeping with the social norms of writing for the time period, keeping in mind the topic of the story. Either way, I am glad I can across this book and I look forward to reading more of Keilson's works.
jasonfurman reviewed this
Rated 5/5
A gem of a novella. Dutch, written right after the war, it tells the story of a young married couple sheltering an older Jewish man. The story bounces back and forth in time, organized around the events before and after the man they are hiring dies of what seems to be pneumonia.Although not perfect, it is deeply humane and evocative.
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