cover image After Midnight

After Midnight

Irmgard Keun. Victor Gollancz, $18.95 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-575-03656-7

Keun's literary reputation is currently being reassessed. Her first two books were bestsellers in her native Germany; her later, post-World War II novels less popular. This third novel, published in Germany in 1937, takes a biting look at the final nightmarish days of the Weimar Republic. Narrator Sanna Moder, a ditzy blonde, falls in love with her cousin Franz, a relationship quickly squelched by her aunt, Franz's mother, who informs the police that Sanna has made ""subversive statements'' about Goring. After a harrowing interrogation, Sanna moves in with her brother, a well-known writer who has been reduced to writing National Socialist Party propaganda, and his wife. She becomes involved with their intellectual circle of friends while waiting to be reunited with her lover. Keun's real talent is as a portraitist. From the cynical journalist contemplating suicide as a way out to the newspaper seller who has invented a divining rod to unmask Jews, the author has portrayed a society desperately trying to protect itself from annihilation. Much of the material is dated, and the clever repartees, the little ironies seem sadly irrelevant now. Yet Keun's spirited defense of common decency stands out after all this time. (March)