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, and must then 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, 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’.
Comedy in a Minor Key introduces Australian 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.
‘Ironic, uncluttered and lucid, Keilson's writing shows great psychological insight and compassion. His novella is a small masterpiece.’
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‘Keilson's anti-heroic cast come to life in unfussy, precise prose that never crowds its subject matter or clouds the truths it evinces. His occasional golden periods are merited by the crisp simplicity of what precedes and follows, and mirror the penetrating insights he gives us into his characters.’
‘This first-ever English translation of Keilson’s gripping 1947 novel about a Dutch couple hiding a Jewish perfume merchant in their home during WWII marks a welcome reintroduction to the author’s unfortunately obscure oeuvre … Beautifully nuanced and moving, Keilson’s tale probes the more concealed, subtle forces that annihilate the human spirit.’
‘Devastating ... dreamlike ... Nowhere in this novel do the words 'Nazi' or 'Hitler' appear and the story works the way literature is supposed to in transforming specific real-life experience into something that has resonance and implications beyond its time and place. It's also a powerfully political novella in its depiction of oppression and the abuse of power, the infliction of cruelty in the name of ideology and the sheer power of organised resistance.’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘[A] beautiful novella.’
Owen Richardson, The Age
‘Helpless fear pervades ... yet it is uplifting: faced with atrocity people become alive to the corrosiveness of extremism, and injustice inspires compassion.’
‘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, in Comedy in a Minor Key, author Hans Keilson reveals the horrors of the Holocaust in an eerie, intense way ... This fast-paced book, translated by Damion Searls, is a jewel. The author lets us peer into his soul.’
The Boston Globe
‘After thousands of works about the Holocaust, this one — one of the very first — adds to our understanding ... this novella, with its evocation of a random universe and its surprising humour, anticipates Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd of the 1950s.’
The Financial Times
‘Is Keilsen a genius? Are his novels "masterpieces"? I doubt if we can know. But read them. They will enthrall you.’
Inga Clendinnen, The Monthly
‘Comedy in a Minor Key is a masterpiece, and Hans Keilson is a genius … One of the world's very greatest writers.’
Francine Prose, The New York Times