Friday, 3 June 2011

Hans Keilson RIP

The writer Hans Keilson died on Tuesday at the age of 101 in a hospital in the Netherlands, where he lived. A Jewish German, he had left the country in 1936 after his first novel was published and promptly banned in 1933. His parents were murdered in Auschwitz, while he went undiscovered in Holland, helped the Dutch resistance and later became a psychoanalyst.

Of course, you may be aware of all this because Hans Keilson came to late fame after Francine Prose described him as a genius in the New York Times. If Philip Oltermann in the Guardian is to be believed, Keilson came to his unusual literary renaissance during his own lifetime because of the translator Damion Searls, who allegedly found Comedy in a Minor Key in a bargain bin outside an Austrian bookshop and fell in love. Setting off a domino effect in which the critics in the States and the UK loved it (and his re-released The Death of the Adversary, trans. Ivo Jarosy), and then the Germans rediscovered him.

Similarly to the Hans Fallada phenomenon, international interest in German fiction about everyday people resisting the Nazis has prompted reissues of Keilson's work in German too. His memoirs Da steht mein Haus, written in the 1990s, were published in April along with a collection of essays and a reprint of his first novel, Das Leben geht weiter. By all accounts he was a modest man surprised by his late success, who thoroughly deserved the literary attention he received.

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