Friday, September 23, 2011
It is not good to be too free. It is not good to have everything one wants.
Isn't it ironic, don't you think? My desk at home, Geilston Bay. August 2011.
Another day, another substantive draft review disappeared into the ether. Consider this the truncated version...
Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana might be a touch more satirical than his more literary offerings (he considered this one an ‘entertainment’), but that doesn’t stop it being a rather dark send up of intelligence services, written at the height of the Cold War.
The plot revolves around a vacuum cleaner salesman recruited into the British Secret Service, increasingly out of his depth who eventually finds himself in a hole. His solution? Keep digging! It’s a great read that manages to touch on his regular themes (Catholicism, ‘duty’, love and death) while remaining light enough to provide a few laugh-out-loud moments. Highly recommended.
Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was actually written in 1947, but didn’t receive an English translation until much later. This short novel centres on the lives of a young Dutch couple during the Second World War who have decided to hide a Jewish stranger in their house. Despite the very real danger, their rationale isn’t immediately obvious (even to them); a combination of ‘patriotic duty’, ‘Christian charity’, ‘civil disobedience’ is cited. Indeed, at one point the husband (in an attempt to convince himself) says “Almost everyone is doing it.” Ultimately, their choice is nothing more than a purely humane act.
Their ‘guest’ is Nico, a middle-aged perfume salesman, a non-practicing Jew. At first this presents an awkward situation: two people early in their marriage having a stranger in their house, a stranger not only in mortal danger, but who comes with a great risk to his hosts.
This is a really sensitive study of how ordinary people might set about resisting occupation. The tale is lightly told, but the looming (unseen) presence of danger is evident on every page. The author – a German Jew who fled to the Netherlands in 1936 – spent the war hidden with a married couple, which no doubt is why this book reads so true.
Comedy in a Minor Key magnificently evokes the trauma that comes in extraordinary circumstances. As such, it really is a must read.