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Irmgard Keun (1905–1982)

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Verk av Irmgard Keun


Allmänna fakta

Andra namn
Tralow, Charlotte
Friedhof Melaten, Cologne, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Cologne, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Cologne, Germany
Greifswald, Germany
Hamburg, Germany
Ostend, Belgium (exiled from Germany)
Holland (exiled from Germany)
Harriott, Clara Morris
Tralow, Johannes (spouse)
Roth, Joseph (lover)
Zweig, Stefan (friend)
Priser och utmärkelser
Marieluise-Fleißer-Preis (1981)
Kort biografi
Irmgard Keun was born in Berlin and attended a Lutheran girls' school in Cologne. She supported herself as a stenographer while originally pursuing an acting career. In 1931, at age 26, she burst onto the German literary scene with two radical novels that became bestsellers: Gilgi--One of Us, and The Artificial Silk Girl. They portrayed young women shedding conventional roles and adopting more modern and urban lives. The Nazi regime called the books "anti-German" and blacklisted them. After a fruitless lawsuit against the Gestapo for lost royalties, Irmgard Keun was forced into a wandering exile around Europe. She befriended a number of fellow German émigré writers and intellectuals including Stefan Zweig and Heinrich Mann, and was romantically involved with Joseph Roth. In 1940, she arranged for a newspaper to report that she had committed suicide. Using a false passport in the name of Charlotte Tralow, she then managed to smuggle herself back into Germany, where she survived the war. During this turbulent period, she produced two masterworks: After Midnight (1937), now considered one of the most powerful first-hand portrayals of life under Nazism, and Child of All Nations (1938). In the 1960s, she spent several years in a psychiatric hospital in Bonn. At the end of her life, she was finally recognized as one of Germany's groundbreaking and most courageous authors.



The narrative voice is very convincing. Sanna is not as naïve or artless as she seems at first. She sounds a bit like the stereotypical 'ditzy' young woman, but it's cover for her discerning observations, sometimes delivered with droll sarcasm. At one stage when she's in a bar with her friend, she starts up a prattling conversation in an effort to distract attention from Gerti's imprudent opinions that could get them both into trouble among the people wearing party badges. She'd seen for herself how eager some were to inform on others when she was in Cologne. So the reader is made aware that even at this stage of the Nazi regime, it's not just the obvious signs of authority such as the Blackshirts that are to be feared... there are also people among her social crowd who would report any signs of dissent.
We are living in the time of the greatest German denunciation movement ever, you see. Everyone has to keep an eye on everyone else. Everyone’s got power over everyone else. Everyone can get everyone else locked up. There aren’t many can withstand the temptation to make use of that kind of power. (p.100)

And when she reports on the enthusiasm for Hitler's visit to her city, her thoughts show that she sees through the empty spectacle. She's very much the outsider, the one who is observing, not joining in, not unless it's necessary to avoid attracting attention. So when the Nazi anthem is sung to the accompaniment of the compulsory Nazi salute, she does it too, to avoid the wrath of the crowd. The implication is obvious: how many others were paying lip service too?

Authoritarianism is everywhere: from Gerti's friend Kurt in his SA uniform, making her sit down almost forcibly so that everyone would think she was his property. But Gerti's in love with Dieter, who's a Jew, which brings forth Sanna's private refusal to engage with labels such a person of mixed race, first class or maybe third class — though she's not naïve about what Dieter really wants from Gerti even if he is polite, and nice, and young, with soft, brown, round, velvety eyes.
Dieter is what they call a person of mixed race, first class or maybe third class—I can never get the hang of these labels. But anyway, Gerti’s not supposed to have anything to do with him because of the race laws. If all Gerti does is simply sit in the corner of a café with Dieter, holding hands, they can get punished severely for offending against national feeling. Still, what does a girl care about the law when she wants a man? And if a man wants a girl, it’s all the same to him if the executioner’s standing right behind him with his axe, so long as he gets one thing. Once he’s had it, of course, it is not all the same to him any more. (p.17)

It's painful to read about Dieter's father's quarrels with Algin (another young friend) who objects to the Nazis. Dieter's father — who is exempt from the restrictions on Jewish business because he runs an export company — thinks that they've put the German mentality in order and saved him from the communists. In 1937 Irmgard Keun could not have known what this man's fate was to be.

But it's also painful to realise that while Sanna thinks she's very clever at seeing through propaganda which seduces others like her Aunt Adelheid, subverting the regime on the sly so that only those who agree with her know about it, achieves nothing. It turns out that her boyfriend Franz has been in Gestapo custody and the novel ends with the pair in flight because he has murdered the informer. Her abrupt coming-of-age and loss of innocence ends as it did for so many with escape rather than resistance — and, as foreshadowed early in the book, what else could we expect under the circumstances?
My heart always stands still when I hear those speeches, because how do I know I’m not one of the sort who are going to be smashed? And the worst of it is that I just don’t understand what’s really going on. I’m only gradually getting the hang of the things you must be careful not to do. (p.63)

TO read the rest of my review please visit
… (mer)
anzlitlovers | 13 andra recensioner | Apr 18, 2024 |
I followed up on [The Seventh Cross] by reading this slim novel. Again, this is set in 1930s Germany, as Hitler is in power and life is changing for everyone. Told through the eyes of a young woman, Sanna begins the novel interested in hanging out with her friends and flirting with men and giving sharp, pointed, sometimes humorous commentary on the new political regime. She obviously doesn't support Hitler, but she also isn't yet seeing the ramifications that the changes in Germany will have on her life. By the end of the book, that has changed. Friends of hers are getting denounced and turned in, she is pulled in for questioning, people are dying, and she is fleeing.

A moving and important novel that is also enjoyable and quick to read. I definitely recommend and appreciate the LTers who brought it to my attention.
… (mer)
1 rösta
japaul22 | 13 andra recensioner | Jan 15, 2024 |
Berlin, late 1930's. Hitler is in power, adored by the masses. 19 year old Sanna lives with her brother in Berlin and is "finding herself." She narrates the story of her life about town in a sort of innocent way, and through a lens of perhaps willful ignorance we glimpse through her eyes some of the oppression and horrors that are beginning to unfold. Her best friend Gerti loves a Jewish man, but cannot be open about it. Her bother, who is a writer, has his books banned.

The book really captures the feel of what it must have been like to be in the midst of a society caught in the mass hysteria of worshipping a cult figure.

I would like to read more by this author.


4 stars
… (mer)
arubabookwoman | 13 andra recensioner | Dec 31, 2023 |
[Bonjour tristesse] dans les années 30 en Allemagne, c’est un peu ce que j’ai pensé pendant toute la lecture de ce livre. Je n’ai pas beaucoup aimé Bonjour tristesse, et je ne suis pas sûre d’avoir d’avoir éprouvé beaucoup d’empathie pour cette Suzon qui semble ne souhaiter qu’une chose, à savoir grandir dans l’insouciance d’un milieu privilégié, qui ne serait fait que de fêtes, de sortie dans toutes les tavernes possibles de Francfort, de belles robes et d’éternelles questions sur les hommes et sur l’amour. Certes, lorsque tout cela se passe alors que le Führer visite la ville et que, dans cet ordre nouveau chacun cherche soit à se faire sa place au soleil soit à se faire oublier, l’histoire devient tout de suite moins frivole. Car la question est là : comment faire les expériences de la jeunesse et devenir adulte dans une société qui ne connaît qu’une seule vérité.
J’ai cru pendant toute ma lecture que ce livre avait été écrit dans les années 70, l’édition de ma traduction française datant de 1981, et ce n’est qu’au moment d’écrire cette note de lecture que je m’aperçois de mon erreur, puisque ce livre a été publié en 1937 par une autrice allemande en exil, ayant eu un certain succès avant d’être mise au pilori par le nouveau régime (ce qui lui donne plus d’un point commun avec le personnage d’Algin dans le roman).

C’est donc un livre que je n’ai pas beaucoup apprécié au cours de ma lecture mais qui, par son histoire et sa singularité (celle d’être un des rares livres témoignant à chaud du climat délétère des années d’immédiate avant-guerre en Allemagne), devient intéressant pour lui-même. J’ai en particulier été marquée par le fait qu’Irmgard Keun ne laisse pas beaucoup d’espoir quand à la façon d’échapper à ce contrôle grandissant des vies et des esprits : la fuite semble la seule alternative possible. Les moyens de fuir sont divers, mais le résultat est le même, quitter cette Allemagne qui étouffe l’insouciant, atrophie l’artiste et muselle l’intellectuel.
… (mer)
raton-liseur | 13 andra recensioner | Dec 26, 2023 |



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