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Comedy in a Minor Key

3.72  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,318 Ratings  ·  251 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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Community Reviews

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Nov 11, 2011 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 01, 2012 Chrissie rated it it was ok
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 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
Mar 18, 2015 Ana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
E quando um casal acolhe em casa um judeu em fuga e de repente tudo muda…
Durante a segunda guerra mundial, muitos judeus foram ajudados pelas populações, mantiveram-se escondidos, não sofreram os horrores dos campos de extermínio, mas passaram por um tipo de tormento mais lento e subtil. A espera, o medo e a culpa…
Um tema penoso, escrito com alguma, leveza, ironia e humor.
Aug 22, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german
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
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
Feb 01, 2011 Tung rated it really liked it
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
Aug 20, 2010 Kasa Cotugno rated it it was amazing
Shelves: era-world-war-ii
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
Jan 30, 2012 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 20th-century
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
Roger Brunyate
Jul 15, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it really liked it
Shelves: holocaust
Ordinary Goodness

Hans Keilson knew at first hand what he was writing about. Though trained as a pharmacologist in Berlin, his Jewish birth made it impossible for him to practice, and in 1936 he fled to Holland, going into hiding when the War broke out. This novella, published shortly after the War, tells of a young Dutch couple, Wim and Marie, who take in a Jewish man and hide him in an upstairs bedroom. They are good people, but also quite ordinary; that is their beauty. One gets the impression
Tanuj Solanki
Nov 21, 2015 Tanuj Solanki rated it it was amazing
Keilson's masterpiece is the only of its kind (that I've experienced) in Holocaust literature. Reading it, one feels as if a dimension as yet unimaginable has been added to the horrific story that we have now come to expect. There are no gas chambers in this one, no concentration camps either. Almost all the action takes place inside a comfortable house. The horror remains something that is only anticipated, and not necessarily imagined very well by the characters. The title fits beautifully.
Jan 21, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
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
Jun 04, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it
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
Jul 31, 2011 Beverly rated it really liked it
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:

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'
Dec 29, 2011 Ritu rated it really liked it
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
Jan 11, 2014 Marigold rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-ii, classic
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
Feb 28, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-fiction
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
Oct 02, 2015 Senura rated it it was amazing
This gave me chills. Not frightening chills but OHMYGAWDITWASSOGOOD CHILSS
Sep 21, 2010 Frank rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german
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.

Sep 02, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing
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
Garry Pope
Oct 06, 2015 Garry Pope rated it really liked it
Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key (1947) is simple, yet gripping.

In their spare room, Marie and Wim hide Nico, a Jew, in occupied Holland during WWII. Gliding back and forth in time, from the first year of Nico's stay to the main focus of an eventful night, the story is subtle yet tense.

Keilson writes a delicate novella, it’s staged only in two locations, and the majority of time is spent with the three main characters. The plot’s pacing rises and drops, climbing to an edgy finale that places
Heather Muzik
Aug 15, 2015 Heather Muzik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No longer sure who is friend or foe, neighbors hide from each other in a layered story of resistance during WWII. There was something so elementally base and simple about this story, while at the same time it was so meaningful and historic. A vivid window into the smallest of parts people have played in history as they actively chose to make the largest of sacrifices. Wim and Marie seem older than their years as they ploddingly accept their place in time.

The story conjures thoughts about the opp
a bene placito
Apr 15, 2015 a bene placito rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
‘Comedy in a Minor Key’ is a really interesting and enlightening read regarding the period of history/ situation that it portrays, so try not to read too much into its title if you are completely new to the book, because the title is slightly ironic and can be misleading.

‘Comedy in a Minor Key’ is a novella often described as being a dark comedy on wartime manners. (The ‘comedy’ label is supposed to be taken with a grain of salt though).

Its backdrop is World War II and the nazi occupation of t
Jan 02, 2015 Pascale rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A very slight book, not because it is slim (a virtue in my view), but because it doesn't yield any new insight. Wim feels it is his patriotic duty to hide a Jewish refugee in his home in an unidentified Dutch town. His wife Marie quickly agrees, provided they take in a man "of course". Why does she think it more proper, since she is a housewife, and will of necessity spend more time with their guest than her husband? That goes unexplained, as do most things in this far too elliptical novella. Al ...more
Jonathan Widell
Jun 03, 2014 Jonathan Widell rated it liked it
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
Sabina Manolache
Sep 08, 2015 Sabina Manolache rated it really liked it
It was an interesting book. I loved the different perspective of a situation that you read quite often about.
Aaron Sta.Clara
Dec 23, 2014 Aaron Sta.Clara rated it really liked it
"As they climbed the steps to their bedroom and walked past 'his' door, they shyly and silently looked at the brightly painted wood. The black door handle remained at the horizontal, as always.

But it seemed to them that the door was closed in a way it had never been closed before."

This excerpt tells us the closure of this penetrating novel, with a wonderful mixture of prose and poetry. When I first read this, 'The Book Thief' first came into my mind and undoubtedly, the two bore a striking rese
Mark Lisac
Dec 17, 2015 Mark Lisac rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This unique retrospective on the psychological issues raised by hiding a Jew in the Netherlands during the Second World War makes a deep impact through its deceptive simplicity. There's even more going on here than the surface tale of suspense and suppressed terror. The terror is all the more effective for its highly casual presence, an antidote to the usual jackboot drama. Keilson approaches the skill of Jose Saramago and Alice Munro in layering mundane events and conversations in a way that cr ...more
Jo-Ann Murphy
Dec 15, 2014 Jo-Ann Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2015 Cristina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Como judeu que abandonou Berlim durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial, Hans Keilson criou em Comédia em modo menor, uma arrepiante sátira em torno da situação vivida pelos judeus que se refugiaram em casa de locais por não poderem atravessar a fronteira incólumes.

Neste caso a história centra-se num casal que, sem filhos, abriga um judeu num quarto extra, mantendo-o isolado e incontactável. O dia-a-dia do casal é alterado para acomodar o novo hóspede que defin
Anna Engel
May 19, 2014 Anna Engel rated it really liked it
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
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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
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“Love, beauty, dignity: all that was only put on, so that whoever approached the glowing embers in reverence would not singe his grasping hands and thirsting lips. But wherever violence and annihilation tore away the protective covering, the undaunted heart was thrown into turmoil and could not rest until new costumes had formed, new threads has been spun, to make and raise up what was shameful and venerable.” 1 likes
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