Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was originally published in 1947. Damien Searls translated it from German into English in 2010. Keilson tells the story of Wim and Marie, a young Dutch couple that is hiding Nico, a Jew, during the World War II. Hiding a Jew in Nazi-controlled territory is no easy feat, but it is not until Nico dies of pneumonia that the young couple’s problems really begin.
When Comedy in a Minor Key opens, Allied bombers are flying overhead. Every night now, Marie and Wim black their windows, but they do not do this to hide their home from bombers. Instead, they blacken their windows as part of a
regimen of precautions that had moved into their house on the same day as the stranger.
Germany is at war, but there is also unrest within its territory. Marie and Wim have decided to invite a stranger into their home to save him from the Nazis. There is a network of people that organizes shelter for men and women on the run. Wim and Marie’s contact is Jop, who tells them that almost everyone is hiding someone.
Wim and Marie are hiding Nico, a Jew who sold perfume before he went into hiding. Life between the three is often strained. Wim and Nico are careful about how they act around one another. Marie knows that the roles are awkward for both men given that Nico is the elder yet also the dependent. Each day, Wim goes to work in the factory. During the day, Nico hides upstairs and Marie does chores on the main level. Marie and Nico have worked out a variety of routines. Although Nico looks forward to reading the newspaper, he waits at the top of the stairs for Marie to pick up the paper and bring it inside. She then usually takes it upstairs for Nico to read.
Although many routines and precautions work themselves out over time, there are slipups. One day, Marie burns milk on the stove and Nico goes downstairs, thinking that perhaps Marie stepped out and left the stove on. Marie is at home, but before Nico can return upstairs, the fishmonger shows up. They love fish and Marie knows that the fishmonger will not come back if she turns him away. So Nico is trapped on the main floor and must hide in the washroom on the side of the kitchen for half an hour while the fishmonger cleans fish for Marie.
Marie and Wim try to foresee every complication and work out the number of people from whom they will have to keep their secret, including Wim’s sister, Coba. However, their housecleaner is a more daunting problem, particularly because she has traditionally cleaned both the upper and main floors. Marie decides to slowly relax her housekeeping...
(The entire section is 1091 words.)