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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-08-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Published in America for the first time, suspicion and betrayal permeate social and romantic life in this finely wrought account of civilian life in 1930's Frankfurt. Though, like her narrator Sanna, Keun (The Artificial Silk Girl) had recently fled Nazi Germany when she wrote this slim volume, readers should resist conflating Keun's mature prose with the character's pitch-perfect naiveté. Even while young Sanna lives in fear of innumerable faceless informants, she eats, drinks, and banters with them. Keun's achievement lies in how insidiously these mundane activities accrue over the course of a festive day. As the city prepares for a Hitler motorcade, a fog-like menace creeps in; by nightfall, however, via a series of curious asides and gestures—interrupted only by the sudden, strange death of a little girl—this menace has solidified into a horrifying reality. Keun reveals a continent's self-delusion in grotesque detail, describing Germany as "turning on her own axis, a great wheel dripping blood." In 1940, three years after writing this novel, Keun faked her own suicide and reentered Germany, residing there until war's end. In its deliberateness and daring, that act is consistent with—and reverberates inside—this powerful book. (June)