In the High Peaks

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson

A dark, but charming tale set during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands is at the heart of Comedy in a Minor Key: A Novel by German writer Hans Keilson. This slim volume, a very quick read at 136 pages, was first published in Germany in 1949 and was only recently translated and published in the US by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Hats off to FS&G for rescuing this little gem from obscurity and bringing it to light in 2011! (UK friends, is it available to you, I'm wondering?) I loved it--the book had its hair-raising moments but a happy, satisfying ending rounded it off beautifully.

Keilson, who died at the age of 101 in early June this year, didn't care as much about his literary legacy as his work as a psychiatrist of war-traumatized children. He always believed his masterwork was the book he wrote about his experiences as a psychiatrist treating these children.

Keilson himself was in hiding in the Netherlands during World War II, so the novel comes from personal experience.

The New York Times obituary published in early June, was rivetting reading. What an amazing life! (Because the obit is over 30 days old, I can't provide a link. But getting to the article is a snap--just Google "Hans Keilson New York Times."


  1. I ve yet to read this Judith but always amazed he felt this was less than his work with kids this story seems quite important as he lived it partly ,all the best stu

  2. I loved this one too (and am so glad to see it getting more review attention!) I, too, was fascinated by his obituary. He lived an amazing life.

  3. Stu,
    I guess Keilson, as a doctor, viewed his work to help the next generation of Europe, as a more vital, enduring legacy.

    Gosh! I should know your name, gosh! I'm so glad you shared this book with me and the obit as well. Inspiring, isn't it?


  4. I haven't yet read this book, but I absolutely loved his first novel Das Leben geht weiter (Life Goes On). It's sad to think about what his and so many other people's lives would have been wouldn't they have lived in such terrible times and circumstances.

    1. Thanks so much for the recommendation of Das Leben geht weiter. I'm adding it to my list of possibilities for Caroline's and Lizzy's German Literature Month in November. Maybe I'll get it to before then, but I'm very, very glad to be reminded of this author's work.