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Comedy in a Minor Key

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3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  1,113 ratings  ·  223 reviews
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 f ...more
Paperback, 107 pages
Published November 26th 2010 by Hesperus Press Ltd (first published 1947)
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Louisa
Jul 28, 2014 Louisa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
Han Keilso was hailed a genius by The New York Times and I am inclined to agree with them. First published in the Netherlands in 1947, this book finally earned an English translation in 2010, and for that I shall be eternally grateful. At just a little over 100 pages, this narrative packed a punch, the tension palpable, the writing: precise, elegant and hauntingly beautiful. I read this in one night and couldn't put it down. A dutch couple, Wim and Marie take in a Jewish man, Nico during world w ...more
Cheryl
Elegant writing can mean prose layered with expressive language. Proust comes to mind. For me, elegance comes from precise words, minimally phrased that speak truth in a profound way. COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY is an example of such writing. In less than one hundred-fifty pages, Hans Keilson tells a story of the Holocaust that hasn't been exhaustively told. Most of us know about the camps, rail transports, and ordinary citizens' complicity. Keilson tells another tale, one few have thought about but e ...more
Lauren
Go google Hans Keilson. No, I’m not kidding. Go read his Wikipedia entry or one of the articles that come up about him and then come back to this review. Yeah. That’s a pretty crazy life history, right? Sort of makes you want to read his book even if it’s horrible. Good news: the book’s not horrible. In fact, I’d even say The New York Times wasn’t exaggerating when they called this book a masterpiece. During WWII, a young couple hides a Jewish man in their home and all is going well until he die ...more
Chrissie
Nov 01, 2012 Chrissie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Chrissie by: NY Times
Somebody will just have to clue me in to why this book is so special!

You feel like you are reading the lines of a play rather than a novel. There are sentences such as - "on the table were three dirty cups and a newspaper" or "he carried the bag in his left hand". Phrases are repeated; we, the audience, are being told to pay attention....so that a message can be relayed. I found this annoying.


Time and time again I thought that doesn't make sense; one would not do that or think that. The story is
...more
Tony
A Dutch couple, Wim and Marie, are hiding a Jew upstairs. And then he dies.

Hans Keilson just died this year at 101. His books, including this one written in 1947, have been newly and brilliantly translated and republished.

You can read this on a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Pittsburgh.

Nico, the Jew upstairs, tells this wonderful couple, "It is not just the Jews." Maybe it will be Wim and Marie too. I'm no plot spoiler though.

A Comedy in a Minor Key is indeed told in the Dorian mode. A lovel
...more
John David
The premise is simple enough. A married couple, Wim and Marie, decide to take in a Jew named Nico during World War II. In hiding him, the comfortably middle-class Wim and Marie learn what it means to live the precarious life of a Jew in 1940s Holland, in what would have otherwise been a set of rather ordinary circumstances. Soon afterwards, Nico becomes ill and eventually dies in their house, leaving the couple in the unique position of needing to dispose of a body no one can know they had there ...more
Tung
I believe in the cliché “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Too often over the years, a book has made me feel like the author was being paid by the word. I appreciate books whose author doesn’t waste words; Comedy in a Minor Key is a perfect example to me of how succinctness doesn’t have to compromise the story, and in fact, how succinctness can work in the favor of a story’s overall construct. The book tells the story of a Dutch couple (Wim and Marie) during WWII who are providing secret housing for ...more
Kasa Cotugno
This story of a young Dutch couple who hide a Jewish stranger for a year in their home is a gem. Wim and Marie are not committed to a cause or outraged by outside influences, but they are ordinary, decent people acting out of human kindness. The narrative is presented elliptically, probing the emotions of the couple and the man they know as Nico who dies of pnemonia before liberation, thus presenting a dilemma of how to dispose of the body. The comedy referred to in the title is more about the c ...more
Peter
As another reviewer suggested, I did read some facts about Hans Keilson's life before reading this short novel, and the fact that he actually hid in someone's home to escape the holocaust maybe gave some added weight to it. But I think I would have enjoyed it anyway. It's weird to read about the trivial embarrassments and secretive uncertainties--much more than the serious dangers--involved in saving someone's life in this way and dealing with having them around all the time. And on the part of ...more
Jim
When you read the history books it’s easy to forget that war is all about the most ordinary of people. There are far more foot soldiers than there are generals and there are far more civilians than there are soldiers. And there won’t be an ordinary person out there who’s been through a war who hasn’t got a tale to tell. Few of these will be tales of heroism but there will be tales of small moments of bravery, of doing the right thing. This is what we have here. Marie and Wim are just an ordinary ...more
Susan
Hmmm. My "Hmmm" is because of my contemplation of this being called a black or dark comedy. Now, I did not read it because I expected a humorous look at Jews hiding from the Nazis, because I certainly can't imagine any humor coming from that situation (okay, maybe if Colonel Klink were involved). I came across the book when looking for books about Germans and in this case the Dutch living under the Nazis. This book is about a young Dutch couple hiding a Jew in their house. I read it straight and ...more
Beverly
I picked this up at the library knowing nothing about the author, Dr. Keilson. I just finished the novella and read this NY Times article about him: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/04/boo...

I'm even more impressed. I enjoyed the novella because Keilson handles the omniscient third person with grace (no easy task, at least for me!), and he writes in the spare style that admire so much (James Salter's stories, for example). More importantly, though, I found this book riveting because of the author'
...more
Ritu
A good interesting story - well thought out. It is a simple story with a couple - Wim and Mary who provide shelter to a stranger, a jew who seeks protection frm the Nazis. Wim and Mary must do this in absolute secracy. A year passes and all of a sudden, Nico, the jew, dies in their household due to pneumonia. Here comes the significance of the title - It is ironical that Nico could have died if left in the world - so he had sought the couple's protection; instead he dies of a disease in secracy ...more
Marigold
This is a beautifully told short novel that provides a view of life during World War II that is seldom seen. We all know there were those who bravely sheltered Jews and those who helped them escape. This book tells the story of Wim and Marie, an ordinary young Dutch couple, who take on the task of sheltering an older Jewish man. When he dies of natural causes, they face having to dispose of his body. By focusing on one tiny, less than extraordinary situation, Comedy in a Minor Key gently, succin ...more
David
The rise and fall of literary reputations, like some kind of stock market for introverts, is a strange thing. This author's work, published in the Netherlands over half a century ago, seems to be experiencing a “buy” signal largely due to the author, a German Jew who fled the Nazis and was hidden by the Dutch, surviving to see his 100th birthday recently. Happily, the author in this case deserves some attention. This is slender (literally and figuratively) story of bland yet decent people trying ...more
Frank
It's interesting, but I regret having read this and his other well-known novel in English. I get the feeling the translations don't manage to be very idiomatic, they sound a little awkward to my (admittedly non-native) ears. Strangely, although the original is in German, I often get the feeling I'm reading *Dutch* that's been translated a little too stodgily or literally. Maybe because this one is set in Holland, and the author became a Dutchman after he'd gone into hiding for the nazi's there.

S
...more
Mark
A fine, tightly wrought, intensely absorbing psychological thriller about a Dutch couple who harbor a Jew during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. The author, a German who participated in the Dutch resistance and wrote the story right after the war, has many talents -- he has a detailed eye and a gift for fine description. Parts of it almost read like poetry. He uses tension and so well throughout the narrative that you are at the edge of your seat throughout. I would read more of this aut ...more
Jonathan Widell
Wim and Marie hide Nico, a Jew, during Nazi occupation in Holland. When Nico dies of pneumonia, Wim and Marie dispose of the body in the nearby part but forget to remove the laundry numbers from the pyjama Nico was wearing. Because that clue could lead the police to their door, they end up hiding at somebody else's place and go through all the anxiety and feelings of helplessness one feels while being dependent on somebody else's help.

A clever concept but the dialogue between the characters is
...more
Erik Simon
Francie Prose, in a recent review, called Keilson a genius, and I'm looking forward to the second of the two books she reviewed to make this claim. I love that there are books now being translated that were written in Germany either during, before, or just after the war. (Think Hans Fallada.) This novella was pretty good, but it didn't wow me. It's about a young couple who hid a Jew in their attic.
Jo-Ann Murphy
I won this book through the Goodreads giveaways.

How appropriate that I began reading this on Pearl harbor Day. There is nothing very funny in this book. It is about the horrors of genocide, the courage of those who resist and try to help those at risk and fear that becomes a part of daily life.

The author does a wonderful job of developing the characters and making the reader feel the conflicting feelings and emotions of the people in the house as they live daily trying to "act normally" while fe
...more
Anna Engel
Spare, trim, and by turns elegant and blunt, hopeful and fatalistic.

What struck me most was the uncertainty of an end date to the characters' situation. Hiding someone in your home would be difficult under any circumstances, both for the hider and the hidee. We're so used to knowing that 1945 was the end of the war that it's hard to image not knowing what the final outcome of the horror and fear were. During the war, I'm sure the fear and uncertainty seemed indeterminate and interminable. That N
...more
Katherine
"Since he couldn't touch it, all that remained was to hate it. It became a symbol to him: he hated this symbol, and he hated people who owned this symbol" (62-63).
"But their house, their home, their things--their world--how it all had attracted him and soothed him at first. And now: how vain, how inflated, how worthless! FOr he measured things now with a cosmic measure, which gripped him tight and shook him back and forth" (63).
"The little thorn that grows invisibly in anyone who lives on the he
...more
Malcolm
It is often the case that the best stories about the really big events are told in the smallest and most intimate ways, and when the event is Nazi occupation of much of Europe and its ‘final solution’ there is a sense that its size prevents any meaningful comprehension. This event, taking in Spain, saw nearly 10 years of declared and undeclared war, 13 million exterminated in camps, nearly 60 million dead (20 million of whom were from the Soviet Union, where it is still the Great Patriotic War), ...more
Tony
COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY. (1947; Eng. translation and publication 2010). Hans Keilson. *****.
Although first published in German in 1947, it was first translated by Damion Searls and published in 2010. The author was born in 1909, and published his first novel in 1934. During WW II, he joined the Resistance fighters in Holland. After the war, he became a noted psychiatrist, specializing in trauma in children. As far as I could find out, there is only one other of his books rendered into English, “T
...more
Martha Toll
Here's my feature discussing this book.
http://www.washingtonindependentrevie...

Washington Independent Review of Books

Fresh New Takes on “People of the Book”

Martha Toll
March 27, 2013

The escape from oppression into a vast diaspora is a theme that has preoccupied Jewish writers from Exodus to modern times: here are a few titles that treat this subject with refreshing originality.

Spring heralds the holiday of Passover, in which Jews celebrate their escape from bondage during ancient times. We rece
...more
Kris McCracken
Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was actually written in 1947, but didn’t receive an English translation until much later. This short novel centres on the lives of a young Dutch couple during the Second World War who have decided to hide a Jewish stranger in their house. Despite the very real danger, their rationale isn’t immediately obvious (even to them); a combination of ‘patriotic duty’, ‘Christian charity’, ‘civil disobedience’ is cited. Indeed, at one point the husband (in an attempt t ...more
Charles
I confess that I don't speak German; and, thus, have not read the original. I am sensitive to the demands and challenges of translation, trying to be true to the words and feelings and meanings. And I do not purport myself to be an editor or grammarian; just a reader.

Nevertheless, I was frequently bothered by Damion Searls’s translation.

The first line (which is repeated several times in the text) is “There they are again.” Wouldn’t “Here they are again” or “Here they come again” or “There they g
...more
Booknblues
Comedy in a Minor Key
By Hans Keilson
5 stars
pp. 135

Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key is hardly a comedy, but rather a tragic little tale set in Holland during World War II. Wim and Marie a young Dutch couple decide to do what they consider their patriotic duty and hide a Jewish man, a stranger to them. They know the man as Nico and unfortunately he sickens and dies. The tale shifts between the past and their memories of him and the present and how they will dispose of the body without being ca
...more
Lucinda
Hans Keilson was a German Jew who fled to the Netherlands in 1936 (like many other German Jews, such as Anne Frank's family, for instance) and then went into hiding during the occupation. He was separated from his spouse and daughter during the duration of his period in hiding; she was not Jewish and pretended that her daughter had been borne of a German Officer. During this period he worked with the Dutch resistance, helping Jewish children in hiding who had been separated from their families ( ...more
Rick
Keilson is new to me. A German-Dutch novelist and psychiatrist who recently turned 100, Keilson was part of the Dutch resistance during World War II and was forced into hiding, much like one of the three main characters of this extraordinary novella. First published in 1947, Comedy in a Minor Key is brilliantly restrained and reflective. Wim and Marie, a young Dutch couple take in Nico, a middle-aged Jewish refugee and hide him in an extra bedroom with a well-hidden crawl space. Keilson avoids t ...more
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Hans Keilson is the author of Comedy in a Minor Key and The Death of the Adversary. Born in Germany in 1909, he published his first novel in 1933. During World War II he joined the Dutch resistance. Later, as a psychotherapist, he pioneered the treatment of war trauma in children. In a 2010 New York Times review, Francine Prose called Keilson a “genius” and “one of the world’s very greatest writer ...more
More about Hans Keilson...
The Death of the Adversary Life Goes On Da Steht Mein Haus: Erinnerungen Wohin Die Sprache Nicht Reicht: Vortrage Und Essays Aus Den Jahren 1936-1996 Werke In Zwei Bänden

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