cover image Ferdinand, the Man with a Kind Heart

Ferdinand, the Man with a Kind Heart

Irmgard Keun, trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. Other Press, $17.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-63542-035-7

A German man drifts through his days a couple of years after WWII in Keun’s droll satire (after Gilgi), originally published in 1950. Ferdinand Timpe returns to Cologne after his release from a POW camp. He rents a room from a landlady who sells jam on the black market while he struggles to write a story for his acquaintance Heinrich’s newspaper before learning Heinrich had drunkenly mistaken him for a different, more literary Ferdinand. He feels trapped in his engagement to Luise, which he agreed to at a low point during the war, and attempts to find Luise a different suitor, but his “loose” cousin Johanna steals the men’s attention. Ferdinand takes a job at an occult clinic, doling out advice to clients who participate in a color therapy program (“Find the color of your soul,” reads the inspirational wall text). Ferdinand’s frequent digressions turn to his acquaintances, patients, and family, including his mother, Laura, “a genius of sleep” who avoided problems by taking serene naps, and his determination to find a way out of his engagement climaxes with a fraught family reunion. Keun (1905–1982) shows a sure hand in this biting sendup of postwar Germany, full of absurd moments and amusing foibles. It’s a genuinely funny, ambling story full of sharp character studies. (Dec.)