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After Midnight (1937)

by Irmgard Keun

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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215899,045 (3.99)13
"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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» See also 13 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Another meh book. ( )
  Jinjer | Jul 19, 2021 |
I read this during Dewey's Reverse Readathon, which I decided to turn into a Women in Translation Month readathon, and I just couldn't resist making this the first book I started after midnight. This had been on my TBR shelves for a very long time, but for even longer than that I've been resisting books set in Europe "between the wars." I've only recently started relaxing that resistance, so it was finally time to read this.

I was bowled over by this book. I didn't expect how clever it would be. Sanna is young woman preoccupied by the usual things -- love, the love lives of her friends, the injustices she has been dealt -- and she "doesn't understand politics very well." But her supposed naivety becomes an even more effective position from which to skewer the hypocrisies and cruelties of the Nazi party.

I expected to be devastated by this book, but I was actually delighted. Not that the book is light-hearted, by any means, but there is a thread of hope and goodness that remains throughout. Deserves wider acclaim. ( )
  greeniezona | Feb 21, 2020 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Keun, IrmgardAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steinbach, Dietrichsecondary 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"--

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