Monday, November 22, 2010

Hans Keilson may be the greatest novelist you've never heard of.

Hans Keilson interview: "Genius? I'm not even a proper writer!"Hans Keilson may be the greatest novelist you've never heard of.
Born a German Jew in 1909, he wrote his first book aged 23. Now, a mere 77 years later, he's set to become a literary sensation for his depiction of hiding from the Nazis

Philip Oltermann The Observer, Sunday 21 November 2010 Article history
"My work is being rediscovered. What is odd is that I am still alive while that's happening": Hans Keilson will be 101 next month. Photograph: Juergen Bauer for the Observer

The story of Hans Keilson should be made essential reading for novelists who spend too much time worrying about advances, reviews and Booker shortlists. After he'd managed to get his first manuscript accepted by Fischer, a prestigious German publishing house, just before his 23rd birthday, it was promptly pulped a year later.
That was 1934: Keilson's Das Leben Geht Weiter ("Life Goes On") was his publisher's last novel by a Jewish author before the Nuremberg race laws came into effect.

After the war, he enjoyed a brief revival. In 1962 his second novel, The Death of the Adversary, was a bestseller in the US; Time nominated it as one of its top 10 books of the year. The other authors on that list – Borges, Faulkner, Nabokov and Roth among them – later piled on Nobel Prizes and Pulitzers, but Keilson sank into obscurity once more.

Obscurity, that is, until 2007, when translator Damion Searls chanced on a copy of his third book, Komödie in Moll, in a bargain bin outside a bookshop in Austria, and embarked on a campaign to get it back into print.

This year, just 77 years after his debut, Keilson is finally breaking into the international market. His works are currently being translated into nine languages, and Searls's translation of Comedy in a Minor Key, written in 1947, is about to come out in Britain for the first time. In August, the book was reviewed by novelist Francine Prose in the New York Times, who concluded at the end of her first paragraph ("for busy, harried and distractible readers who have the time and energy only to skim the opening paragraph of a review") that the book was a masterpiece and its author "a genius". Keilson will be 101 years old next month. Life goes on, indeed.

Philip Oltermann's full fascinating story at The Observer.

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