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Comedy in a Minor Key

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  1,386 Ratings  ·  260 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 fir ...more
ebook, 144 pages
Published July 20th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1947)
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3.5 " intriguing, lacking, more please " stars !!!

Hans Keilson was a psychotherapist who worked with children with traumas. His novel Comedy in a Minor Key was published in 1947 and I believe translated into English in 2010 to honor his 100th birthday. In 2008 he was honored with the German Welt literature prize.

This novella is described as a black comedy. A young dutch couple take in a middle aged Sephardic Jew and hide him in their home during the Second World War. This is not a
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
Dec 04, 2010 Chrissie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Ana Lúcia
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.
Kasa Cotugno
Aug 19, 2010 Kasa Cotugno rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 14, 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  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 05, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 03, 2011 Marigold rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2011 Beverly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 11, 2011 Ritu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 23, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 18, 2010 Frank rated it liked it
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.

Aug 30, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 02, 2015 Senura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This gave me chills. Not frightening chills but OHMYGAWDITWASSOGOOD CHILSS
Sabina Manolache
Aug 22, 2015 Sabina Manolache rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was an interesting book. I loved the different perspective of a situation that you read quite often about.
Martha Toll
Here's my feature discussing this book.

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
Mar 10, 2016 Col rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: k, 2016

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
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
Aug 09, 2010 Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 23, 2011 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 27, 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
Nov 17, 2012 Booknblues rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 05, 2014 Heli rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yllättävän haastavaa luettavaa, vaikka kirja onkin lyhyt ja juoni yksinkertainen: pariskunta piilottelee juutalaismiestä natsien miehitysvallan aikana. Yritin aloittaa Komediaa mollissa moneen kertaan kenties liian väsyneenä tai keskittymiskyvyttömänä. Keskittymistä tämän lukeminen ennen kaikkea vaatii, koska Hans Keilson kirjoittaa pitkää ja kielikuvilla lastattua virkettä, sekoittaa aikajärjestykset ja hyppii kohtauksesta toiseen ilman mitään varoitusta.

Edellä luettelemani tekijät ovat kirjall
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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
“She had seen fear: the terrible helpless fear that rises up out of sadness and despair and is no longer attached to anything— the helpless fear that is tied only to nothingness. Not fear or anxiety or despair about a person or a situation, nothing, nothing, only the exposure, the vulnerability, being cast loose from all certainties, from all dignity and all love” 0 likes
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