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The Death of the Adversary: A Novel Paperback – July 20, 2010
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“For busy, harried or distractible readers who have the time and energy only to skim the opening paragraph of a review, I'll say this as quickly and clearly as possible: The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key are masterpieces, and Hans Keilson is a genius . . . Although the novels are quite different, both are set in Nazi-occupied Europe and display their author's eye for perfectly illustrative yet wholly unexpected incident and detail, as well as his talent for storytelling and his extraordinarily subtle and penetrating understanding of human nature. But perhaps the most distinctive aspect they share is the formal daring of the relationship between subject matter and tone. Rarely has a finer, more closely focused lens been used to study such a broad and brutal panorama, mimetically conveying a failure to come to grips with reality by refusing to call that reality by its proper name . . . Rarely have such harrowing narratives been related with such wry, off-kilter humor, and in so quiet a whisper. Read these books and join me in adding him to the list, which each of us must compose on our own, of the world's very greatest writers.” ―Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review
“A welcome reissue of a classic . . . This psychologically subtle and acute account of denial in the face of Hitler's rise to power received strong acclaim before disappearing from print. With the celebration last year of the 100th birthday of Keilson . . . the novel has lost none of its insidious power . . . The narrative recalls the existential depth of Camus and the fabulist absurdity of Kafka or Beckett.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The power of the unsaid haunts this devastating novel . . . A profoundly affecting exploration of the inextricable nature of love and hate, friend and enemy, Keilson's work . . . is as stimulating today as it was half a century ago.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Since Adolf Hitler, an outpouring of writing has tried to explain the violence that human beings do to one another . . . Perhaps the profoundest explanation to date comes from the pen of a Jewish writer driven from Germany in 1936 and now living in Holland. Hans Keilson's novel subtly and eloquently probes the ambivalent relation of victim with aggressor . . . Keilson traces the growth of hatred in his leading character as other writers trace love or self-knowledge.” ―Time, Best Books of 1962
About the Author
Hans Keilson is the author of Comedy in a Minor Key. 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 writers." He died in 2011 at the age of 101.
Top Customer Reviews
The narrator - who bemoans his own passivity - is blessed, or cursed, with high intelligence. Because he is unable to come to grips with evil for its own sake, he twists his logic to make sense out of the insensible; he knows B hates what the narrator represents, but he believes that the narrator desperately needs that hatred and, in fact, feeds on it...eliciting hatred in return. He goes further: in his "logical" mind, he believes that the adversary and his victims are in a state of symbiosis, feeding upon each other and because of their mutual need, neither adversary will eliminate the other. History, of course, has sadly shown how ludicrous this conclusion was.
The key character muses, "I could not give him up; I needed him. His existence meant my destruction in the near future, that much was certain. But his sudden death, or some other event that would have robbed me of his threatening presence, would equally have destroyed me. Between us two, ties and obligations had come into being, perceptible only to those whose share in the things of this world lie in suffering. A strange and questionable share, perhaps; but who can break the community that secretly establishes itself between the persecutors and their victims?"
Mr. Keilson uses a conceit in presenting these musings; his fictional (or autobiographical?Read more ›
At the outset of one of those novels, Death of the Adversary, the narrator explains that the manuscript herein was given to him by a Dutch lawyer, who had, two and a half years into the war, obtained it, along with other important personal documents, from a client of his, an enigmatic German, a mystery man of sorts. The anonymous author had entreated his attorney to keep these papers in a safe place until such time as he could retrieve them. "Read them and tell me what you think of them" says the lawyer to his friend, the narrator, who presumably is a psychiatrist of some repute.Read more ›
"They turned into wolves and devastated cemeteries at night. But however much they tried to appear like wolves, they were not animals. It was not just a question of what they did and said, but also of what they had to keep silent about."
- Thoughts of the protagonist after spending an evening with young Nazis.
In "The Death of the Adversary" the "adversary" and his followers are not named. The adversary is merely referred to as "B", and his followers as his followers. Similarly the central character is not labeled by himself as Jewish. Merely as "other".
And so when we read of him being outcast by the other children when he was very young, and about how his mother takes him by the hand to lead him back to the children to ask them to please play with him, the effect is even sadder than it would have been, had its circumstance been explicit. 'There,' my mother said, and tried to loosen her stern, serious face into a smile. 'He's a child like you. You are all children, play with one another."
For some reason, perhaps because I had never completely comprehended the real horror of it before - the effect of the persecution of the Jewish children in Germany, Poland, Czech ...., I was struck by this scene, where the child feels only humiliation and anxiety when the children turn reluctantly to play with him.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It's brilliantly written. I would have given it 5 stars, but the subject matter, early and late Hitler Germany, is so hard to take. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Willa I. Lewis
'I have seen many who had slowly and painfully accustomed themselves to their own death, and were then destroyed by the death of a friend. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
An absolute must-read for anyone interested in the Jewish experience under the Nazi regime in Germany. This writer should receive the highest literary price possible. Read morePublished on February 28, 2014 by Christian Karl
A strange book about events leading up to the Holocaust. I say strange because the narrator, through a supposedly posthumous journal, tells us of events leading up to the time of... Read morePublished on July 28, 2013 by James W. Fonseca
"The Death of the Adversary" by Hans Keilson is that rare book that had me re-reading portions of the book before I moved on to other chapters. Read morePublished on June 25, 2013 by K. Kennedy
The framing device of "The Death of an Adversary" would have readers believe that we are reading a manuscript secretly written during wartime under a repressive regime. Read morePublished on May 1, 2013 by D. Cloyce Smith
I have never read anything quite like this novel, although I have delved deeply into Holocaust literature. Read morePublished on April 7, 2013 by wtwieder
The book was very difficult reading and not always engrossing. It was also confusing at times. Well written, but I don't know that I'll recommend it to friends.Published on January 30, 2013 by MARILYN ROSENBLATT
The review of this book posted by H. Schneider, less than a month ago, persuaded me to read this obscure (in several senses) book. I'm grateful. Read morePublished on August 11, 2011 by Gio