Review: The Death of the Adversary – Hans Keilson

death of the adversaryHans Keilson died in 2011 at the age of 101.  A German Jew, Keilson and his non-Jewish wife fled to the Netherlands in 1936 to avoid Nazi persecution.  The couple separated during the war while Keilson went into hiding, undertaking work among the Jewish children separated from their parents.  He reunited with his wife after the war and discovered that both his parents had been deported to Auschwitz where they had died.  In order to practice medicine in the Netherlands, Keilson had to re-qualify as a physician and later trained as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.

While he was in hiding during the war, Keilson began work on his most significant novel Death of the Adversary in which he writes about the experience of being gradually cast out from a society which had previously been his home.  The English edition of the book has been in and out of print since 1962 but was republished by Vintage Books in 2011.

The book is written in the first person.  We join the un-named narrator living in his parent’s home (how we reviewers hate not knowing the name of the main character!).  In this case we are not even told which country the novel is located in and Keilson also deliberately anonymises the name of the dictator who slowly comes to power, giving him the title, “B” (he is of course based on Adolf Hitler).  The narrator’s father runs a photographic studio and is given to a pessimistic frame of mind which his wife finds too bleak, urging him not to voice his fears in front of their young son.

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