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After Midnight by Irmgard Keun
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After Midnight (1937)

by Irmgard Keun

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Another meh book. ( )
  Jinjer.Hundley | Mar 24, 2018 |
Nach Mitternacht was Keun's fourth novel, her second to be published in Amsterdam after the Nazis banned her books in Germany, and the first she wrote in exile.

Sanna, the 19-year-old narrator, is an unremarkable, prudent, sane, young woman whose modest, conventional aims in life - to marry her boyfriend and set up in business with him in a small shop - are clearly not going to work out the way she hoped, as the world they live in seems to have gone mad around them. The action of the book takes place in Frankfurt over two days in 1936, with a series of scenes set in various prominent Frankfurt drinking-establishments and at a private party. (Maybe the extreme booziness of this novel has something to do with the collaboration with her lover Joseph Roth?) Hitler himself makes a brief cameo appearance, as his motorcade arrives at the opera house for him to give a speech, and Sanna watches him from a balcony of the pub.

The main aim of the book seems to be to explain and to satirise the effect of the Nazi dictatorship on ordinary Germans. There is a lot about the absurdities of the racial laws, the climate of fear and the enthusiastic way ordinary people took to the possibilities of denunciation (of neighbours, annoying family-members, business rivals...), the suppression of open criticism that left everyone bubbling over with dangerous political jokes they could hardly resist sharing, the suppression of any literature except uplifting Heimat-fiction and odes to the Führer, etc.

Tellingly, Sanna's drinking companion, the cynical journalist Heini, tells her that there's no point in literature in an authoritarian society. By definition, everything the authorities do is perfect, so there's no reason to write about it, any more than you would want to write articles about the sizes of wings the angels are wearing this year if you were in Paradise...

As we would expect, there are plenty of jokes, but also plenty that is very black indeed. In the final chapters we meet three British journalists who have come to Germany for a couple of days to interview Sanna's brother, a novelist who has tried to accommodate himself to the new régime. Their brief experience has left them impressed with how hospitable, cheerful and optimistic their German hosts are under their new leaders: Keun is making very sure that the reader won't fall into the same error. And we don't.

As a novel, it's a quick and lively read: Keun was a pro, and she knew she had something important to say and had a clear idea how to say it. Factually, it probably doesn't tell you anything about Nazi society that isn't in all the history books, but that's not really the point. There are very few direct contemporary accounts like this of what it felt like to be living in Nazi Germany as a German, written whilst it was still going on. Keun had only been away for a few months when she wrote this, and there are lots of really telling little details that stop you and make you think about things in a new way. ( )
  thorold | Oct 15, 2016 |

I first heard of this book and its author only a few weeks ago, when I read an article in the local newspaper in which a number of Australian writers were asked to nominate their favourite books of 2011. I don’t know why this particular work drew my attention, but I’m very glad that it did.

When the book was published in 1937, Irmgard Keun was living in exile in the Netherlands, her previous novels having been banned by the Nazi regime. As the editorial note at the end of the Kindle edition explains, Keun returned to Germany when the Netherlands fell to Germany in 1940. She travelled on a passport in an assumed name, after the publication of reports that she had committed suicide. She then lived with her parents in Germany for the duration of the war.

This is a short work and easy to read. However, its simplicity is deceptive and the final effect of the work is devastating. The novel is in the form of a first-person narrative and the story is slight. The narrator is Sanna, an unsophisticated and naïve 19 year old in Frankfurt, who is not interested in politics and has the same concerns as other girls of the same age. Sanna is in love with the unprepossessing Franz and she wants to have fun. Her friend Gerti is in love with a Jewish boy (or rather, with the son of a Jewish man). Her sister-in-law fancies herself to be in love with anti-Nazi writer Heini. Her brother Algin, a novelist, contemplates whether he can conform and write in a manner which will not cause him political problems.

Sanna’s observations about life for ordinary Germans under the Nazi regime are a large part of what makes this work a treasure. Her observations are ironic and often laugh-out-loud funny, all the more so because Sanna is not consciously criticizing Nazism : rather, she relates its contradictions and perversity in a matter-of-fact manner which leaves the reader in no doubt as to Keun’s views. As the novel progresses, the mood becomes darker and more desperate. Events start to spiral out of Sanna’s control and her state of mind is reflected in the narrative. Juxtaposed to Sanna’s first person narrative is her reporting of the comments of other characters, in particular those of Heini, who provides a much more direct criticism of Nazism than that of Sanna.

This novel provides an amazing insight into life in 1930s Germany and in particular into the choices which had to be made by writers. It has left me wanting to read more of Keun’s work. It has also left me wishing that I had not allowed five years of high school German language study go to waste. I have read that the most recent translation is very good, but of course I am in no position to know this from personal experience. I only wish I had not had to read the work in translation.
( )
1 vote KimMR | Apr 2, 2013 |
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. ( )
1 vote SusieBookworm | Nov 12, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Keun, IrmgardAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"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 Furher 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. In 1937, German author Irmgard Keun had only recently fled Nazi Germany with her lover Joseph Roth when she wrote this slim, exquisite, and devastating book. It captures the unbearable tension, contradictions, and hysteria of pre-war Germany like no other novel. Yet even as it exposes human folly, the book exudes a hopeful humanism. It is full of humor and light, even as it describes the first moments of a nightmare. After Midnight is a masterpiece that deserves to be read and remembered anew"--… (more)

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