Thursday, March 3, 2011
Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson
This is a subtle and hopefull WWII novel. Not once does the author mention Hitler. Not once does he mention death camps. Not once does he put the word Nazi on paper.
Rather, he reveals the horrors of the Holocaust in an eerie, intense and very introspective way. He takes readers inside the minds of three main characters and provides a gripping psychoanalysis of what it was like both for a Jew in hiding and the couple who gave him sanctuary.
Originally published in German in 1947, “Comedy in a Minor Key ’’ is out in English for the first time. The novel, a dark comedy, is semi-autobiographical. A Dutch couple, Marie and Wim, agree to hide a Jewish man during World War II. The fugitive, who gives his name as Nico rather than his Jewish-sounding name, dies after a prolonged illness. Dead, the man is more dangerous to the couple than alive. They hide him under a bench, but Marie realizes she has made a tremendous goof: She dressed the dead man in her husband’s pajamas, which have a traceable laundry tag--don't worry, it all works out, but we get a real sense of the emotional inner lives of all three characters. The book’s strength lies in the artful way Keilson reveals the inner emotions of rescuer and fugitive--that is what makes this slim volume so powerful.
Keilson himself is German-born and fled to the Netherlands in 1936. A couple in Delft — the pair named in the book’s dedication — hid Keilson during the war. His parents fled to the Netherlands in 1939, but never went into hiding after the German occupation in 1940; they died at Auschwitz. Keilson, who had trained as a physician in Germany, became a psychoanalyst after the war and treated children traumatized during the Holocaust. Short but intense read.