Thursday, October 11, 2012
Under the Microscope - After Midnight
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This is one of the best books I've read in the last year or two. Hell, it's one of the best books I've ever read. It's a small, gorgeous, gem of a book, published by the Neversink Library. It is about the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s, told from the perspective of a young German woman. Sanna is not bright, she's not stupid -- she's just a normal young German woman who wants to have a good time, who wants to find a husband with a little money. But around her the world is changing. How long can she ignore it?
The author, Irmgard Keun, was a German writer who fled Germany in the late 1930s with her lover, the Jewish writer Joseph Roth. She had a sharp, clear understanding of the transformation that was taking place in Germany at this time, but the magic of this book is how she conveys these heartrending changes only through the periphery of what Sanna sees The world is changing, but this can be seen only at the edges, the fringes of Sanna's viewpoint, with the small piling up of incidents. Yet together these little incidents have a terrible weight.
The voice of this novel is pitch perfect, as a vaguely frivolous ignorance is slowly transformed to understanding and awareness. There's a huge weight of expectation that hangs over each paragraph; the reader sees, long before Sanna, what is happening, and this disconnect, between what is and what is seen, has a profound poignancy. In these empty spaces of missed perceptions lies the Holocaust.