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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Stories of Mr. Keuner

by
Bertolt Brecht


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Stories of Mr. Keuner



Title: Stories of Mr. Keuner
Author: Bertolt Brecht
Genre: Stories
Written: (1956) (Eng. 2001)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Stories of Mr. Keuner - US
Stories of Mr. Keuner - UK
Stories of Mr. Keuner - Canada
Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner - Deutschland
Histoires de monsieur Keuner - France

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Our Assessment:

A : a very sharp and clever collection

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
San Francisco Chronicle A+ 15/7/2001 Jonathon Keats

  From the Reviews:
  • "Stories of Mr. Keuner finally puts in English translation this startling and stunning body of work, not only encouraging a broader appreciation of a playwright famed for fighting inhumanity in his time but also effectively questioning integrity in our own day." - Jonathon Keats, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bertolt Brecht wrote his little Keuner-stories throughout his life, from the 1920s to the 1950s, publishing the stray pieces in various collections and magazines. The final collection of some 85 pieces was only assembled and published together posthumously. It continues to be an immensely popular title in the German-speaking countries. Astonishingly, the Martin Chalmers translation (2001) marks the first time that the collection has been published in English.
       Few of the pieces can really be characterized as stories: most are very short, some only a line or two, and they are not really narrative (and there is even a Keuner-poem). They are parables, aphorisms, and anecdotes: simple commentaries on the world and events.
       Mr. Keuner -- or simply Mr. K., as he is in most of the pieces -- has proved an enduring figure. He is laconic, thoughtful, surprising. Brecht effectively used him as a succinct mouthpiece, offering his terse comments on a wide variety of subjects.
       In almost all the pieces a situation is presented, a comment made, or a question posed to Mr. K., and Keuner's response is noted. Generally, his words are quoted -- speaking, presumably for (and as) Brecht himself. His responses are brief, and generally to the point, his explanations clear -- and usually not what people expect or, perhaps, want to hear. But not every answer is straightforward: Mr. Keuner allows for vacillation and uncertainty, and especially for shifting positions, depending on circumstances.
       What kind of man is Mr. K. ? Occasionally Brecht refers to him as him as "der Denkende" ("the thinking one" (or "the thinking man", as Chalmers has it) -- not "the thinker"), and he is certainly a very cerebral figure. One piece tells of the young Keuner, who is said to have told a girl that he very much liked: "Ich habe heute nacht von Ihnen geträumt. Sie waren sehr vernünftig." ("I dreamt of you last night. You were very sensible."). Still, Brecht's thinking characters are also realists, concerned with down to earth, everyday matters (and even, occasionally, with matters of the heart). They are not haughty intellectuals -- though a certain arrogance can certainly be ascribed to Mr. Keuner.
       There is a fair amount of politics in this collection. Brecht generally speaks in generalities, avoiding mention of specific nations and leaders (though Stalin is named in one of the last pieces). It gives the pieces a universal and timeless quality. He effectively addresses a wide variety of issues, from political ones to questions about god, love, truth. Most are as resonant today as, one imagines, they were when Brecht first penned them (some almost eighty years ago).
       The stories are simply and beautifully expressed: Brecht is an often underestimated stylist, and his prose gets nowhere near the recognition it deserves (especially outside the German-speaking world). These concise aphorisms and pieces are a good (though not truly representative) introduction to Brecht as a writer of prose. And they are an excellent introduction to his thinking: there is much of Brecht in sly and slippery Keuner.
       Among the many things Keuner was against were concluding judgments ("abschließende Urteile"). Still, we'll risk one: an excellent and fascinating collection, well worth your while.

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Links:

Stories of Mr. Keuner: Reviews: Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner:
  • Excerpts, including Wenn Her K. einen Menschen liebte, Maßnahmen gegen die Gewalt, Herr K.s Lieblingstier, and Erfolg
Bertolt Brecht: Other books by Bertolt Brecht under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) is best known as a dramatist, but is also one of the most significant German writers of poetry and prose in the 20th century.

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© 2001-2009 the complete review

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