Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson

Written in 1947 by Hans Keilson, this German novella, translated brilliantly by Damion Searls, is a quick little read that will stick with you for quite some time. The story is simple: Wim and Marie, a Dutch couple, take the decision to hide a Jew called Nico in their home. Although the trio is faced with an extraordinary situation, they endeavor to keep life as ordinary as possible.

Until Nico unexpectedly dies.

I didn’t give anything away there; you find out about his death in the first few pages. But Wim and Marie must now deal with his body, and therein lies the ‘comedy’ mentioned in the title. I must warn you, though: you’ll only laugh if you find the cosmic sense of humor funny.

There’s a lot in this novel for a book club to discuss, but most of it will be quite heavy. If your group is up for an existential journey, then it could be a good choice. If not, I still highly recommend this book for any individual reader–it really makes you stop and think about life and its meanings, or lack thereof. For a more in-depth and wonderful review by Francine Prose of this and Keilson’s other work, The Death of the Adversary, click here:

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