Sunday, November 13, 2011
German Lit Month: After Midnight by Irmgard Keun
Translator: Anthea Bell
Date: 2011 (1937)
Acquired: won from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat
Read: for German lit month
Reading time: five days
From GoodReads: Sanna and her ravishing friend Gerti would rather speak of love than politics, but in 1930s Frankfurt, politics cannot be escaped--even in the lady's bathroom. Crossing town one evening to meet up with Gerti's Jewish lover, a blockade cuts off the girls' path--it is the Fürher in a motorcade procession, and the crowd goes mad striving to catch a glimpse of Hitler's raised "empty hand." Then the parade is over, and in the long hours after midnight Sanna and Gerti will face betrayal, death, and the heartbreaking reality of being young in an era devoid of innocence or romance.
My review: 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.