Tuesday, July 12, 2011

book review: Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson

Comedy in a Minor Key: A NovelTranslated from German by Damion Searls

The backstory: Comedy in a Minor Key was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. It was originally published in German in 1949 and was only translated into English last year.

The basics: The story of a marriage during war, Comedy in a Minor Key follows Marie and Wim, a Dutch couple who take the risk to secretly house Nico, a Jew. They bravely take in a stranger despite their trepidation.

My thoughts: With less than 150 pages in this novella, Keilson infuses a remarkable amount of danger, beauty, and action. Marie and Wim are heroic yet ordinary. Their relationship with Nico is haunting to watch. The story itself jumps around through time, which helps maintain both the action and the suspenseful contemplation of its characters.

I've found myself increasingly drawn to tales of marriage, across many places, ages and spectrums. The Story of Wim and Marie was fascinating and their love moved me deeply. There was a quiet, real, trust and honesty to their relationship I appreciated:
"He understood her, he understood her completely. But he couldn't help her."
As I read, I couldn't help but picture myself as a reader of this novella in 1949. In some ways, the timing makes it even more powerful. To know Keilson had the faith and bravery of his characters to write this work then moved me. It would be powerful if it were written today, but as a relic from its own time, it's even more inspiring.

Favorite passage: "And in the end, every situation conceals within itself certain unforeseen possibilities."

The verdict: Comedy in a Minor Key is a haunting, tragic tale of civilian life during war. Although incredibly short, it's a novella that will stay with me for quite some time.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length:144 pages
Publication date: July 20, 2010 (first English translation); it's in paperback now (originally published in 1949)
Source: my local public library

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  1. This does sound impossibly beautiful and emotionally stirring. I might have to see if I can get my hands on a copy. Very nice review, by the way!

  2. Thank you for posting about this newly translated German novel. I have just ordered it from my library and expect to be reading it soon for my German Postwar Literary Challenge, which I'm hosting on my blog. It's the only challenge I'm involved in at the moment.

    I've enjoyed visiting you blog today and will come by regularly.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  3. This book sounds beautiful! I haven't heard of it, but I'm going to add it to my list!


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