Published June 6th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Format read: ARC via publisher
ISBN: 0374535590 (ISBN13: 9780374535599)
After Keilson’s death at age 101, a diary was found among his papers covering nine months in hiding with members of a Dutch resistance group. It tells the story not only of Keilson’s survival but also of the moral and artistic life he was struggling to make for himself. Along with Keilsonesque set pieces—such as an encounter with a pastor who is sick of having to help Jews, and a day locked upstairs during a Nazi roundup in the city—the diary is full of reading notes on Kafka, Rilke, Céline, Buber, and others. Forcibly separated from his wife and young child, Keilson was having a passionate love affair with a younger Jewish woman in hiding a few blocks away, and writing dozens of sonnets to her, struggling with claims of morality and of love.
1944 Diary is a revelatory new angle on an often-told history and the work of one of Europe’s most important novelists at a key moment of the twentieth century.
The answer though, is yes. Because in 1944 Diary, Hans Keilson did a remarkable job of balancing a record of both the war, but also of his day-to-day life. His world was both simultaneously big and small; he had to contend with the challenges of a world that he no longer necessarily understood, while dealing with the micro-challenges of his own life, including an affair, his struggles as an artist, and just the brunt of day-to-day living.
It's a remarkable remind that even in the midst of chaos, one needs to continue focus on living, because that is how we conquer the world in such challenging times. Though some of the translations aren't perfect - Kirkus aptly points out that they come off a bit odd and dry at times - the overall tone of the story resonates deeply. It's a look at how one single individual conquers a challenging point in history, and we can all learn from it.
About the authors:
Damion Searls specializes in translating literary works from German, Norwegian, French, and Dutch. Among the authors he has translated are Marcel Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, and Peter Handke.