Tuesday, February 5, 2013

REVIEW: Comedy in a Minor Key, by Hans Keilson

Comedy in a Minor Key, by Hans Keilson. Published 2011 by FSG. Literary Fiction. Translated from the French.

Comedy in a Minor Key is a slender novella about a Dutch couple, Wim and Marie, who hide a Jewish man they know as Nico in their home during World War 2. He's dead. This fact is revealed almost immediately, that he has died while in their protection. The story travels back to his arrival and his stay, then catches up with the present and the consequences for Wim and Marie of Nico's death.

While he's with them, Nico isn't some pale shadow lurking in a closet or a basement. He's part of their day to day lives, and some of their family even know he's there. No blank slate upon which is reflected the goodness of his gentile helpers, Nico is a fully-drawn character with complex feelings towards this couple who are risking their own lives to hide him. He's grateful of course, but he's also miserable, resentful and frustrated. Keilson explores the psychological impact of being hidden on both the hiders and the person hiding, and this exploration takes on an extra dimension when Wim and Marie are forced into hiding themselves.

This novella, a spare and haunting little thing, is a quick read but will still manage to take up a lot of space in your thoughts. The three characters are little more than pencil sketches but Keilson still makes us understand and care for these people. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the Holocaust but also in human nature, in what lengths people can and cannot stretch themselves for their own and others' survival. It's a memorable, thought-provoking gem.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.