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Publisher's Summary

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, then must 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, penetrating, 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.”

Published to celebrate Keilson’s hundredth birthday, Comedy in a Minor Key - and The Death of the Adversary, reissued in paperback - will introduce American readers and listeners 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.

©1947 Hans Keilson, Translation copyright 2010 by Damion Searls (P)2010 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

“For busy, harried or distractible readers who have the time and energy only to skim the opening paragraph of a review, I’ll say this as quickly and clearly as possible: The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key are masterpieces, and Hans Keilson is a genius." (Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review)

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HIDDEN LIVING

Hans Keilson writes a story about hidden living in Comedy in a minor Key. The horror, the horror… from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness creeps into your mind when listening to Keilson’s story of a German Jew that is hidden by a young married couple in Nazi Germany.

History and fiction meet in Keilson’s story. Keilson is long gone and little remembered but this story places you in a small two-story house, in an upstairs bedroom with the shades drawn, in a grim scene of anxiety and despair. James Clamp has a perfectly accented voice for this tale of gloom because he does not over dramatize Keilson’s words but gives them a solemn and poignant believability.

Aside from the horror of the death of innocence, the story has a kind of happy ending with the married couple returning to their home to begin again. One wonders if beginning again means they will continue to be protectors of the innocent; to be human in a culture that slips into genocide, destruction, and hate.

This is a short book, more of a novella, but it tells a big story that resonates in our own history and the history of all humanity.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Ironic and Tragic

How many stories have I read in my life about good, well-meaning people who helped Jews hide during WW2? An innumerable amount! and yet, I never thought about what could or would happen if one of them died while hidden! What do you do? How do you get rid of the body in secret? Is it dangerous? I NEVER considered any of this, yet it must have happened countless times!

I am glad I came across this short story; it was a very interesting (albeit ironically tragic) book.

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  • danni
  • Sointula, BC, Canada
  • 05-04-12

This was so interesting

The subject of the the Jews and WW2 is not easy to handle lightly. Yet I learned so much about people and their lives, at that time, without the sick feeling I usually get when reading about the Holocaust.