“Wenn wir alle gut wären” (If we all were good) is definitely a case of social media made me buy it – more specifically, the wonderful review by Frederike from “A Feminist’s Shelf”. But I am so grateful that Instagram brought this amazing collection to my attention because otherwise I might’ve missed out on it.
Those of you who have been following my literary adventures for a while know that I’m a huge fan of Irmgard Keun. I love her writing and consider her one of my favourite writers. Whenever someone asks me for German book recommendations, she is the one I’m naming first. However, I always focused on her novels for some reason. “Wenn wir alle gut wären” is a collection of shorter texts showed me a new side of her writing.
“Wenn wir alle gut wären” can be divided into different parts that feature different types of texts. The first part contains short satires about everyday life, literature and relationships in which Keun displays her sharp humour and eye for detail. Both are qualities which I really appreciate about her writing and which she brings to new heights in this book. These short texts are easy and fun to read and often made me laugh out loud.
The second part of “Wenn wir alle gut wären” has a more serious tone and features autobiographical writing and poems about her time in the European exile during the Third Reich. They offer an insight into her life and the community of German writers in exile after Hitler came into power.
“Wenn wir alle gut wären” also features several letters Keun wrote to fellow writer Hermann Kesten who lived in the USA during the post-war years. Keun – who secretly returned to Germany during the Second World War – appears to be disgusted by German society, the supposed denazification and desperately wants to emigrate (which is a wish that never came true). These letters do not only have a more personal tone but they also show the poverty and destruction the writer experienced after the second world war. This last part also contains some sharp satires Keun wrote about a couple in post-war Germany which address denial, privileges and everyday life after the end of the Third Reich.
I really enjoyed the mix of different styles, text forms and moods throughout “Wenn wir alle gut wären”. They highlight Keun’s quality as a writer. While I didn’t enjoy the post-war satires as much the rest of the book I still appreciated how they managed to portray a certain zeitgeist. The texts of this collection are not only interesting because of their literary quality but also because of the historical insights they provide into German society during the 1930s and 1940s.
For those of you who didn’t hear of Irmgard Keun before my post: She was a German writer born in 1905. Her debut novel “Gilgi, eine von uns” (Gilgi, one of us) and her second novel “Das kunstseidene Mädchen” (The artificial silk girl) both were a huge success in the early 1930s. They addressed topics such as independence, relationships and the role of women.
When the Nazis got into power, Keun’s books were among those who were forbidden and burnt. She went into exile and wrote interesting books such as “Nach Mitternacht” (After Midnight) and “Kind aller Länder” (Child of all nations) which were focusing on the experience of the life of intellectuals in (inner) exile. After the war she was almost forgotten for a few decades until her work was rediscovered in the seventies. She died shortly afterwards in 1982.
If you want to read more reviews of German books, you can find them here.
Have you read “Wenn wir alle gut wären” or anything else by Irmgard Keun?