Hans Keilson you wonderful human being.

Hans Keilson

Tuesday post: my thoughts on Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key.

To start off, Hans Keilson’s book is a really fair companion to Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader. Both of them originally written in German, both later translated and both centered around second world war in Germany. They are both also focused on the smaller perception of war, rather than regaling the readers with action-packed battle scenes and large, outrageous war crimes, they detail more the psyche of war, the panic of the innocents, the preying danger of the faceless pilots in the sky and the intangible yet almost omnipresent threat of death hanging over the characters.

Comedy in a Minor Key is a really small book. I don’t remember the number of pages exactly (who does that by the way? remember page numbers?) but suffice it to say, it was almost on par with Tales of Beedle the Bard. And in this small story, Hans Keilsons writes about the plight of a Jewish Refugee who is taken in by a young German couple. Wim and Marie, childless and utterly normal, find their lives changing overnight when they agree to take in a Nico, a Jewish refugee who ends up (spoilers ahead) sadly dying from pneumonia.

Said like that, the story sounds largely unpromising, mundane even but trust me, it’s anything but.
The narrative rolls forward in bursts, alternating between the present (where Nico is dead) and the past (where Nico was alive or not even in their house yet). It’s confusing at the start but once you get into the middle, the choppy style gets familiar and the sudden jumps back and forth start to feel natural.

The language in the book was primarily very succinct. It was clear and direct, lacking the lyrical and eloquent quality that The Reader had.  But perhaps that was for the best. The Reader detailed life immediately after world war, thus could afford a bit of romantic lyricism in its narrative whereas this is much too invested in the ever-present immediacy and danger of the still ongoing war to ever actually slow down to sound nice. It’s rather blunt, crude because of this: it’s masterful.

I liked the story, even though some might find it a very narrow perspective given the setting of the story. I also liked the writing, even though some might find it very ordinary comparatively.
The point being, other than me having some weird tastes, this is a book that people are either going to like or dislike and I am okay with that. (actually, you had better like it)


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