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After Midnight (1937)

av Irmgard Keun

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MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
2841493,469 (4)24
"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"--… (mer)
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» Se även 24 omnämnanden

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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 https://anzlitlovers.com/2024/04/18/after-midnight-1937-by-irmgard-keun-translat...
( )
  anzlitlovers | 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. ( )
1 rösta japaul22 | 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.

Recommended.

4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | 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.
  raton-liseur | Dec 26, 2023 |
After Midnight was originally published in German in Amsterdam in 1937. Keun was by this time on the Nazi's black list and it was by no means easy to get her book published in Holland. It is not a political book in that it is written in the first person by a nineteen year old girl who has little interest in politics. It tells the story of Sanna; a pretty girl living amongst middle class German citizens of Frankfurt, who are by this time all politicised by the Third Reich led by Hitler. He has become a god-like figure and all life centres around him highlighted by his cavalcades through German towns and his speeches broadcast everywhere on the Radio.

It is a love story; Sanna is in love with Franz who has had to leave the city to escape possible arrest after being denounced by a rival shopkeeper and now his letters have stopped arriving. Her friend Liska is married to Algin, but Liska has set her cap at Heini who is a member of the SA. Gerti is in love with Dieter Aaron, who has been designated as a third class citizen due to his being of mixed race and Gerti must be careful not to show him affection in public. Sanna is not a well educated girl, but has learnt after being denounced for making off hand remarks about Hitler, that it is not a pleasant experience to be summoned to the local offices of the Gestapo, she was lucky in getting away with a caution. Many of her friends and acquaintances belong to the National Socialist party and she knows now to be careful about what she says. She is disparaging about some of them, who try to be super patriotic by claiming to have read Mein Kampf; Sanna says they are probably all like her; having a copy in the house, but rarely opening it. It is a world of intrigue that ordinary citizens have by and large accepted.

"Everyone has got power over everyone else. Everyone can get everyone else locked up. There are not many who can withstand the temptation to make use of that kind of power."

Sanna is one of the few who does not use this power, she has her own set of values and she tries to do good by others.

The adulation towards Hitler is demonstrated, when he makes a visit to Frankfurt and Sanna describes the event. She is annoyed that she cannot cross the square, but a friend takes her in hand and she is led up to a crowded balcony with a good view of the cavalcade. The book builds towards a climax with a party organised by Liska; who is desperate to attract the attentions of Heini, Sanna helps her with the preparations and her lover Frantz arrives unexpectedly.

The circle of people milling around the young women, Sanna, Liska, Gerti and others spend much of their leisure time in the local beer halls, there are always Party members, soldiers belonging to the SA or the SS in abundance willing to spend their money. There are a few Jewish people who are still tolerated, because of their usefulness, but they tend to congregate in one of the few beer halls designated for them. Some are making preparations to leave Germany; all are living a ghost like lifestyle, trying not to get noticed. It is a warped and crazy world, but many have adapted and are using it to their own advantage. Sanna is slowly being suffocated.

Sanna's easy going telling of her story, skates over the difficulties for many people at that time, but they are there, under the surface. The patriotism generated by Hitler and the National Socialist Party has swept many people along and changed their view of the world, those that criticise are denounced and become collateral damage. If you ever wondered what it would be like living in a fascist state, then this book would give you a glimpse into the reality.

This is a book from the LRB's list of books to read and it was recommended by Ali Smith - 4 stars. ( )
1 rösta baswood | Dec 14, 2023 |
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Författarens namnRollTyp av författareVerk?Status
Keun, Irmgardprimär författarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Bell, AntheaÖversättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Steinbach, Dietrichmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat

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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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