cover image Life Goes On

Life Goes On

Hans Keilson, trans. from the German by Damion Searls. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-19195-5

Stunningly accomplished and self-assured for such a young writer this novel, published initially in 1933 when Keilson was in his early 20s, gives a haunting portrait of Germany between the two world wars. The Seldersens have a small clothing shop, which they’ve owned for 25 years. Now the economy is awful and business extremely slow. Their solemn and studious son, Albrecht, is 16. Albrecht’s friend, Fritz, is the opposite: physically strong, a fine athlete with an outgoing personality; his father, a plumber, has been working since the age of 14. Both Fritz’s parents and Albrecht’s are determined that their sons have everything needed for a brilliant future. But the future is in doubt for just about everyone. Hundreds of workers at a local factory lose their jobs because of a fire. The economy is dreadful not just locally but everywhere. Debt and worry take a heavy toll on the Seldersens, and they, like the others around them, feel an overwhelming sense of shame. Meanwhile, Albrecht goes off to university in Berlin while Fritz grows increasingly despairing as he tries to find his way among the diminished opportunities around him in an atmosphere where there was “powerful, deadly exhaustion in the air.” Both methodical and acutely sensitive, this book is a wonderful achievement. (Nov.)