The Death Of The Adversary: A Novel by Hans KeilsonThe Death Of The Adversary: A Novel by Hans Keilson

The Death Of The Adversary: A Novel

byHans KeilsonTranslated byIvo Jarosy

Paperback | July 20, 2010

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Written while Hans Keilson was in hiding during World War II, The Death of the Adversary is the self-portrait of a young man helplessly fascinated by an unnamed "adversary" whom he watches rise to power in 1930s Germany. It is a tale of horror, not only in its evocation of Hitler's gathering menace but also in its hero's desperate attempt to discover logic where none exists. A psychological fable as wry and haunting as Badenheim 1939, The Death of the Adversary is a lost classic of modern fiction.

Hans Keilson is the author of Comedy in a Minor Key. Born in Germany in 1909, he published his first novel in 1933. During World War II he joined the Dutch resistance. Later, as a psychotherapist, he pioneered the treatment of war trauma in children. In a 2010 New York Times review, Francine Prose called Keilson a "genius" and "one of ...
Title:The Death Of The Adversary: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:208 pages, 8.31 × 5.46 × 0.57 inShipping dimensions:8.31 × 5.46 × 0.57 inPublished:July 20, 2010Publisher:Farrar, Straus And GirouxLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0374139628

ISBN - 13:9780374139629


Rated 3 out of 5 by from New perspective Translated from the German by Iva Jarosy “One cannot cut the lines of experience out of one’s face, like the rotten bits in an apple; one has to carry them about in one’s face and know that one carries them; one sees them, as in a mirror, every day when one washes oneself, and one cannot cut them out, they belong there.” “He had swore to her…that this was how it had all happened, as though he had first to mist the mirror slightly with his breath before he could dare to look into it. […] What can a man do but breathe at the mirror and look gently at his misted image?” Mirrors are a repeating motif in Hans Keilson’s novel, The Death of the Adversary. Written during WWII, this novel has been republished this year. The Los Angeles Times wrote enthusiastically “It's as if, one morning, we were to learn that not only had Anne Frank survived the secret annex but was also still among us.” (Sept 26, 2010*) Mirrors generally symbolize self-reflection and contemplation, and are fittingly used to describe the inner questions that plague a young man as he realizes that Hitler’s influence was inevitably going to change his life. First, he hears his parents whisper and worry, and tries to decipher the codes they seemed to be speaking in. Next he finds himself an outcast in the neighborhood as the other children begin to avoid him. His mother takes the well-intentioned step of intervening on his behalf, trying to convince the children that they are all alike and should play together. His humiliation is complete, and never fully leaves him. Thus, he begins focusing on his “adversary”. “…enemies will never die out in this world. They are recruited from former friends.” The next salvo comes from a close friend who reveals he supports Hitler’s agenda. He explains to the unnamed protagonist that it is simply a matter of balance: just as elks need wolves to control their species and balance their habitat, so too, Germany is balancing itself. For the greater good, he implies. Their friendship quickly dissolves. The young man now explains the details of his experience, from strained friendships to watching his parents change to going into hiding. Certainly, this novel has a more mature voice than Anne Frank’s diary. The protagonist is more somber and definitely more pessimistic. I didn’t find that the story gave any exceptionally new revelations about the time period, but it does provide a new perspective to describe the experience. One brief passage about the change in his parent’s attitude reveals a surprising aspect of human nature under trial: his father who bitterly lamented the rise of Hitler’s power becomes almost giddy with excitement when the horror begins, while his religious mother, who started out optimistic, begins to withdraw into depression and anxiety. One thing that is especially fascinating is that Keilson never actually defines his adversary as Hitler. He uses the term “B” to represent him, although it’s clear of whom he speaks: a man with an evil plan and the power to implement it. Yet, at times “B” is also portrayed as an intangible force, a concept of evil bigger than the Holocaust. The ambiguity gives the reader pause to consider what defines evil and apply the revelations experienced to virtually anyone suffering oppression. Incidently, I was curious if by using the initial rather than the name, Keilson is attempting to lessen the power of Hitler’s name, giving it less fame. For example, notorious killers today are well known by name: Ted Bundy, Lee Harvey Oswald, or John Wayne Gacey. After a period of time when their horrific deeds are forgotten, they become simply a pop culture reference. By not using Hitler’s name, it could be that in some small way, Keilson doesn’t want to give him any further notoriety.
Date published: 2010-10-27

Editorial Reviews

"For busy, harried or distractible readers who have the time and energy only to skim the opening paragraph of a review, I'll say this as quickly and clearly as possible: The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key are masterpieces, and Hans Keilson is a genius . . . Although the novels are quite different, both are set in Nazi-occupied Europe and display their author's eye for perfectly illustrative yet wholly unexpected incident and detail, as well as his talent for storytelling and his extraordinarily subtle and penetrating understanding of human nature. But perhaps the most distinctive aspect they share is the formal daring of the relationship between subject matter and tone. Rarely has a finer, more closely focused lens been used to study such a broad and brutal panorama, mimetically conveying a failure to come to grips with reality by refusing to call that reality by its proper name . . . Rarely have such harrowing narratives been related with such wry, off-kilter humor, and in so quiet a whisper. Read these books and join me in adding him to the list, which each of us must compose on our own, of the world's very greatest writers." -Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review"A welcome reissue of a classic . . . This psychologically subtle and acute account of denial in the face of Hitler's rise to power received strong acclaim before disappearing from print. With the celebration last year of the 100th birthday of Keilson . . . the novel has lost none of its insidious power . . . The narrative recalls the existential depth of Camus and the fabulist absurdity of Kafka or Beckett." -Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"The power of the unsaid haunts this devastating novel . . . A profoundly affecting exploration of the inextricable nature of love and hate, friend and enemy, Keilson's work . . . is as stimulating today as it was half a century ago." -Publishers Weekly"Since Adolf Hitler, an outpouring of writing has tried to explain the violence that human beings do to one another . . . Perhaps the profoundest explanation to date comes from the pen of a Jewish writer driven from Germany in 1936 and now living in Holland. Hans Keilson's novel subtly and eloquently probes the ambivalent relation of victim with aggressor . . . Keilson traces the growth of hatred in his leading character as other writers trace love or self-knowledge." -Time, Best Books of 1962