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Comedy in a Minor Key: A Novel Audible – Unabridged

4.3 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Format: Hardcover
Comedy in a Minor Key tells the story of a young Dutch couple, Wim and Marie, who conceal Nico, a Jewish perfume salesman, in their spare bedroom for a year during World War II. For Wim and Marie, their generosity isn't born out of political passion or response to injustice, but rather a sense of decency and neighborly kindness. In contrast to heroic war tales of the resistance and defiant rebels, Wim and Marie naively stumble through the awkwardness of a housing a stranger on the run from the enemy. The clumsiness of living with a stranger and riskily concealing him takes a dangerous turn when he passes away from illness, and the two are forced to dispose of his body.

Hans Keilson is enjoying new attention with English language readers due to the first English translation of Comedy in a Minor Key even though it was originally published in 1947, as well as the re-issue of his book The Death of the Adversary. This slim volume (only 135 pages) quietly relates a bleakly funny tale about human compassion that is startling and deeply affecting.

What I find so exciting about this work it wryly breaks expectations. As Marie observes thinking about the man they have concealed "He had defended himself against death from without, and then it had carried him off from within. It was like a comedy where you expect the hero to emerge onstage, bringing resolution, from the right. And out he comes from the left." For Wim, Marie, and Nico, their actions aren't those of heroes. Marie feels slighted by her guest concealing from her, Wim fumbles in banal yet clandestine operations, and even Nico commits selfish acts. In their efforts to do something grand, life in all its accidents and frustrations interrupts.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Comedy in a Minor Key is a truly phenomenal short novel. The title reveals a great deal about the subject of the novel: a dark, almost absurdist comedy set amongst a traditionally sad background. The novel centers around the lives of three characters: A married couple, Wim and Marie, and their "guest" 'Nice' who comes to join Wim and Marie out of the necessity of the times.

Kielson adeptly develops the characters of all three characters, helping the reader to feel as though they were (1) the "man of the house" in WWII Belgium seeking to do the right thing, (2) the housewife forced to deal with the everyday realities of hiding a man in her home without allowing the neighbors to find out and (3) the man hiding in the upstairs bedroom of a couple he never knew because his background makes him eligible for death. Kielson moves from the mind of each character frequently, sometimes within the same paragraph, forcing the reader to think about the same conversation through each person's lens.

Kielson also employs a narrative device that is particularly powerful in the novel: he moves back and forth in time without warning or background. This often gives the novel the feel of being timeless, almost infinite. This is especially effective when considering the point of view of Nico, as he (and anyone in his situation) must have felt that time almost stood still at moments, and then suddenly jumped forward with events of great magnitude. Kielson helps the reader to have similar emotions, sometimes feeling that time was almost standing still and then suddenly a great burst of information or events would occur.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The plot of Comedy in a Minor Key: A Novel by Hans Keilson is simple and understated and to give a synopsis here would only diminish its impact. It is a commanding, unorthodox story rich with irony and dark humor that held me completely captive. With Keilson's economy of prose this novella is one of the most intensely suspenseful stories I have ever read. Yet at the same time it is also one of the most sympathetic and charming.

The title is curious but a well chosen one. One does not usually equate comedy with the Holocaust but in this case it is dark comedy which applies to the twist and turns in the lives of an ordinary Dutch couple, Wim and his wife Marie, who as their patriotic duty resist the Nazi occupation of their country by taking into their protection a Jewish man they know only as Nico.

This novella of 135 pages is best experienced rather than merely read quickly. Keilson's prose is beautiful and sweet, powerful and stirring. With a penetrating and intimate honesty he reveals the psychological calculus of a man in hiding from the Nazi cattle cars and of those compassionate individuals who hide him and protect him. It is a short tale but an unforgettable one and it can be read in a matter of hours, but I must tell you this... I could not turn its pages fast enough and every moment of my absorption was spent rigid on the edge of my chair.

I was most riveted to the suspense of those things Keilson left unsaid in this beautiful novella. It is completely understood without explanation the risks Wim and Marie take in hiding Nico and it also goes without saying what awaits Nico if he is discovered by the Nazi police.
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