Sunday, May 25, 2014

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilso

Comedy in a Minor Key
by Hans Keilson
translated from the German by Damion Searls
3 stars - would make a good discussion book for students

ALR Blue - no animal characters

I wish I could have read this without first reading the dust cover. That skewed my opinion, I fear.

Comedy in a Minor Key is a short novel about a young couple in the Netherlands during World War II who take in a Jewish man and hide him in an upstairs room. It's an interesting tale of how regular people commit acts of civil disobedience during wartime and the effect it has on them. 

This would make an excellent book for high school English. It's short and direct, but leaves one with things to ponder. It subtly shows that harboring a stranger is not the happy, easy, do good thing for either hosts or guests. As time passes, all suffer. The guest from the isolation and ill health of being locked away and living in fear, the hosts from having this person in their house, neither friend nor lodger, and also worrying on a daily basis if they have somehow given themselves away.

Back to my opening sentence. There is so much wrong with the brief description on the dust cover. 

The book is described as a dark comedy. I did not see that at all. I saw several moments when some sort of humor could have been applied to the situation, but the author didn't take advantage of that. Could it have been lost in translation? 

Worse still, the author is likened to Joseph Roth and Franz Kafka. Never read Roth, but I have read every book by Kafka and there is nothing Kafkaesque about this book at all. Nothing.

Maybe this wasn't the best of Keilson's works to read first. No doubt he had an interesting life. Born in Berlin in 1909, he joined the Dutch resistance during WW II and eventually became a psychiatrist specializing in treating children traumatized by war. He lived to the age of 102 and my guess is that some of his other books might be more complex and emotionally challenging, but I'm not jumping to put them in my queue.

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