5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irmgard Keun was Not as Ingenuous as Her Heroines
Keun (1905-1983) was neither a precocious waif nor a tough cynical shop girl, like the female protagonists of her novels "Child of All Nations" and "The Artificial Silk Girl". Or was she? She certainly 'inhabited' those characters -- wore their psyches like a clinging blouse. That's her quotient of greatness as a novelist, her ability to portray the mentality of a...
Published on September 6, 2011 by Giordano Bruno
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting
interesting topic but there was something dis-engaging about it - maybe it was the convoluted-ness, or simply that I don't have tolerance for old fashioned ways of expression
Published 8 months ago by ruth weissenberg
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irmgard Keun was Not as Ingenuous as Her Heroines,
This review is from: After Midnight (Neversink) (Paperback)Keun (1905-1983) was neither a precocious waif nor a tough cynical shop girl, like the female protagonists of her novels "Child of All Nations" and "The Artificial Silk Girl". Or was she? She certainly 'inhabited' those characters -- wore their psyches like a clinging blouse. That's her quotient of greatness as a novelist, her ability to portray the mentality of a 'common' woman with uncanny plausibility. She does men almost as accurately. But the real-life Irmgard Keun, the woman who hooked up with Alfred Döblin and Joseph Roth? Was she a sly intellectual from the start or was she someone like Susanne, the heroine of "After Midnight"? Susanne (Sanna) is patently no intellectual; she's what a Minnesotan would call "a smart cookie" - an ordinary lower-class 19-year-old German girl with no particular education or ambition other than having her bit of fun and being treated decently. But she's not blinded by glamor or pomp; she's the girly equivalent of the Boy in the fairy tale who blurted out the truth about the Emperor's New Clothes. In this case, the naked Emperor is Adolf Hitler and his entourage, and thus the whole buck-naked viciousness of the Third Reich.
Susanne has an older brother, a leftist writer named Algin who has been ostracized by the Nazi publishers. When the ingenue Susanne comes to live with her brother in Frankfurt, her reportage of the ideas she hears in her brother's circle provides author Irmgard Keun with a more explicit 'voice' with which to castigate the Nazi regime, even though Susanne often declares that she doesn't understand all of what she reports, and wishes her brother and her friends would be more cautious about 'shooting off their mouths'. Susanne, the smart-cookie "Strassenjunge, cynical beyond her years, has no urge toward 'commitments' in politics or in social life, except for her half-discarded lover Franz, whom she has left behind in Cologne. The novella commences with a letter from Franz, declaring simply that he'll be coming to Frankfurt to see her.
"After Midnight" is, in the end, a love story, though Franz doesn't arrive until late in the narrative. It's also a caustic, unvarnished portrayal of German society/culture in the early years of Nazi governance, seen through the eyes of ordinary Germans of the lower and lower-middle classes. Keun's accomplishment is to make the insanity and viciousness of Nazidom seem, as it must have seemed, both sane and virtuous to the majority of ordinary Germans at the time. How else could such horrors have transpired, unless people accepted them as congruent with mundane civilized life?
Let's make this review folksier. You want to get a taste of daily life in Hitler's Third Reich? This little novel tells it like it was.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant portrait of early Nazism on a human scale,
This review is from: After Midnight (Neversink) (Paperback)"You can open an envelope and take out something which bites or stings, though it isn't a living creature. I had a letter like that from Franz today."
This opening line from Sanna was a great hook that brought immediacy and a tenseness that rarely dissipates in this well paced, dramatic portraiture of late 1930's Germany. Sanna is a 19 year girl caught between a desire to be flighty, flirty teenager but confronting the reality of a Germany racing full into its darkest period. Irmgard Keun wrote this story in 1937. It must have taken enormous bravery to do so and intelligence to tell it so well.
What the reader gets is a story about a girl observing and living in a swirl of increasing intolerance and oppression where one must seek out the proper worldview and express it in thought, voice and action. But what if that worldview keeps changing? She gets confused. Race laws increasingly isolate Jews, artists, political opponents. Neighbors race to tattletale to the Gestapo which now supercedes the police. Families wonder where a father or son or friend has disappeared to. Others hope to curry favor and get ahead by spying and pounding out the new "worldview" louder.
The story itself focused on Sanna and her friends affections for boys and men. They don't differentiate by race or religion but only what drives the heart. Around them is a world far less tolerant that they can barely understand. Kuen's ability to give such innocent voices clarity to the reader while not discrediting their character is a neat trick that works well. They can observe and offer insight without sounding outside their own youth and limitations.
The book worked for me as it disposes of the idea that "no one knew" or that "things could have been different". No. The Nazi regime was quickly imposing it's will on the people; divided between fervent followers and those to be sent away. They were aiming towards larger far more violent goals that were inescapable. Kuen brilliantly plays this out by introducing 2 English journalists researching the "new" Germany of which they only see good and can only praise despite all the evidence right before them. It makes a great argument on the ability to live in denial.
It's a short book. Well worth reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Nice and Innocent - Until the Nazis Come,
This review is from: After Midnight (Neversink) (Paperback)I was expecting After Midnight to be one of those novels that's not that interesting by itself but sticks in your mind later as a reflection of its times. I'm looking at Mephisto (Klaus Mann) and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (Danilo Kis) here. Not so for Keun's novel of Nazi Germany, however. I enjoyed the novel while I was reading and still had that feeling of this-is-great-because-it-expresses-pivotal-history. Keun's narrator, Sanna, is deceptively naïve. She's young and all absorbed with romance and social relationships and then, boom, she mentions some aspect of Nazi control that's recently come to dominate Keun's characters' lives. The growing effects of Nazism on everyday German society accelerate quickly throughout the novel, with Sanna's life being turned upside down within the course of the two days covered by the story. Like the aforementioned novels concerning authoritarian governments, After Midnight very clearly expresses the life-changing (and life-annihilating) properties of said governments. Unlike the other novels, the central character of After Midnight is one with whom readers can better identify because, at least on the surface, she's just like any other young adult. After Midnight also covers a fairly full spectrum of German lives, from intellectuals to children to Nazi sympathizers to the average people just caught up in it all. The novel even has a satirical character who, like Shakespeare's jesters and other jokesters, is there to provide some comedic relief along with a clear view of what, exactly, is going on. Only this is a book about Nazi Germany, so there's very little relief to be found in these scathing, depressed denouements that will only end in tragedy.
On Germany: "One dreadful day, revenge will come, and it won't be divine revenge, it will be even more atrocious, more human, more inhuman. And that atrocious revenge which I both desire and fear will necessarily be followed by another atrocious revenge, because the thing that has begun in Germany looks like going on without any hope of an end. Germany is turning on her own axis, a giant wheel dripping blood" (p 143). - What I consider to be the most powerful passage of the book.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Well, well, you cannot compose a romantic opera out of your life..." *),
This review is from: After Midnight (Neversink) (Paperback)Sometimes we happen to come across a little gem of a book that had disappeared, literally, for decades. After Midnight, written by Irmgard Keun in 1937 during her exile in Holland, is just one such book. Now translated into English by the admirable Anthea Bell, the first since the original translation in 1938, it belongs into a select treasure collection of recently re-discovered notable German fiction, written either just before or right after World War II. Each novel depicts, in diverse ways, aspects of ordinary people's daily life during the early years of the Nazi regime. Among these authors we find books by Hans Fallada (eg. Every Man Dies Alone), Hans Keilson (eg. The Death of the Adversary: A Novel) and Irmgard Keun (eg. The Artificial Silk Girl). To this distinct collection of novels by 'contemporary witnesses' we can now add AFTER MIDNIGHT. In some way it can be regarded as a 'prequel' to Child of All Nations: A Novel, written in 1938, that tells the story of one family's life in exile, seen from the perspective of a ten-year old girl.
Keun's three novels mentioned above open a window into a time and place that is difficult for us to imagine in detail. Her style is conversational and easy-going, with localisms and vivid images sprinkled in. In this novel, the author endows her narrator, 19-year old Susanne with an independent voice and a mind that roams with great ease between recounting what she hears and observes around her and pondering her own inner thoughts that either add humorous commentary on the people she meets, ask questions, or take her mind to past problems in her young life. Some readers might find Keun's writing a bit too casual and seemingly lightweight for the realities she deals with. However, there is much irony and depth in Susanne's comments and for us readers with hindsight, a wealth of astute observations.
Susanne, 'Sanna', has recently arrived in the big city (Frankfurt) to escape the clutches of the Gestapo and to leave her mean-spirited aunt who had denounced her to the authorities together with her first love and now fiancé, the quiet, diffident Franz. With regret she had to leave him behind... but, as the novel opens, she has finally received a letter announcing that he is on his way to meet her "one more time"... Sanna worries about that little phrase, but life in the animated society circle of her step-brother Alvin, a popular and affluent writer, and his beautiful, luxurious wife, Liska, is too exciting to worry for long. Sanna is a pretty young woman of the time: enthusiastic, naïve and trusting. She is not interested in politics and can just as easily flirt with a man from the SS, the SA or the Jewish doctor, who is one of her brother's friends. Sanna and her close friend Gertie, are often also joined by the funny, sarcastic journalist Heini who is highly entertaining despite, or because of, his falling out of favour with the authorities. He is the first to feel the wind of change and his ironic and witty commentary alone would make the book worth reading. "I used to be a quick-witted and humorous journalist", he laments. "What I believed I had to say, I have said, in my own way and language. Now, in this time of widespread 'word inflation', is it not a pity when a thinking person moves on to total silence?" Alvin, in the meantime, has also been included in the Nazi blacklist and can no longer find a publisher; his existence is quickly reduced to nothing and his mind to despair. As the story moves to its dramatic climax - "after midnight" - the pace in the narration speeds up, the different strands of the story come together, overlap and ...
Keun's novel is first of all a fascinating document for its time. Yet, it is more also. It is an entertaining story to read that, with her typical light and ironic touch, provides us with a highly perceptive portrayal of a society on the cusp of disaster. Keun has filled her story with some memorable characters and their discussions on where the country is headed brings out different points of view, not all presented with the same level of seriousness as the Jewish doctor's consideration of possible exile, a move that does not appeal to Heini:"... poor émigré. [...] You will become a torment to yourself and a burden to others. The roofs that you see have not been built for you. The bread that you smell, is not being baked for you. And the language that you hear will not be spoken for you." [Friederike Knabe]
*) having read the novel in its original, all translations are mine.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars After Midnight,
Sanna flees from Cologne after being investigated by the Gestapo for making unguarded comments, and ends up living with her half-brother Algin and his wife. Once well-regarded and successful, Algin has found his work banned and is unsure about what he can write under the new political regime. For politics are everywhere and can no longer be ignored, even by those who previously had no interest in such things. Every word uttered, every opinion expressed, can be used against you. We learn of Algin's wife, Leski, who has fallen desperately in love with a journalist no longer able to work. Of Sanna's friend, Gerti, having a dangerous relationship with a man of mixed race. Of the charming and previously highly respected Jewish doctor, Dr Breslauer, shortly to be forced into exile. Events are centred around a much anticipated visit by Hitler to a local Opera House and a party that Leski is throwing, but an air of desperation and fear underpins the entire work. Much will change for Senna during this book, but the author cleverly mixes the absurd with the shocking, to show how the unbelievable can become mundane and the ridiculous accepted, as the world the characters once knew and lived in changes around them. This is a wonderful read and I am glad I discovered it. There is also an insightful introduction to the work, as well as an interesting essay on the author at the end of the book, which gives the reader a greater understanding of the novella.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where to start with Keun,
This review is from: After Midnight (Neversink) (Paperback)Melville House's Neversink Library is something that I've been looking forward to for some time, and in particular this release. I enjoyed The Artificial Silk Girl by Keun but After Midnight is the better book. I think the translation is better. There's something surreal about this tale of teenagers trying to live a normal life in the midst of the SS and Nazi Germany.
I'm looking forward to the rest of the series when they come out.
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting,
4.0 out of 5 stars 1930's Germany "After Midnight",
This review is from: After Midnight (Neversink) (Paperback)View inside Germany in 1930's as Nazism gains a foot hold and expands its grip on day-to-day life there. Interesting perspective. Written during that period, author making some what of a come back in popularity.
5.0 out of 5 stars A study of human weakness and group think,
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tense drama,
This review is from: After Midnight (Neversink) (Paperback)This is a very intense piece of writing, offering a glimpse the life led by everyday people in Hitler's Germany.
The tensions runs high from start to finish as the characters deal with the difficulties of life, under constant threat of being reported for the slightest hint of offense against the regime.
There was a sense of urgency about every scene in this book, which was a little tiring at times, but which I also think was necessary to convey the fear of the characters as they each battle their personal demons. I certainly put the book down at the end with a sense of relief that I could now take a moment to breathe.
I never really felt I fully engaged with the characters, but I wonder if that was intentional on the part of the author, given the detachment of the characters themselves as they look for ways to escape their various lives and situations.
This is a quick read at only 135 pages, but I would not necessarily say it was a light one, despite the moments of great satirical humour that save the piece from becoming too depressive; more one for a dark, long night than a simple rainy afternoon, but worth the effort for those you like a deeper type of literary fiction.
I received this book as a free e-book ARC from NetGalley.
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After Midnight (Neversink) by Irmgard Keun (Paperback - May 31, 2011)
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