First published on 15 Feb 2012. Updated on 22 Feb 2012.
Hans Keilson lived for 101 years, through some of the most tumultuous times in modern history. He was a psychiatrist - an old-school Freudian at that - who played the trumpet and wrote novels in his spare time. By all accounts was quite the catch.
The New York Times called him ‘one of the world’s very greatest writers,’ but by all accounts he didn’t seem particularly phased by it. In his mind, he wrote his books so long ago that it wasn’t really relevant anymore. He had other things to be proud of like his patients -who were mostly orphaned survivors of the Holocaust - ringing him in their old age thanking him for changing their lives.
There Stands My House is an interesting book. Essentially it’s a memoir, but not as you’d expect it. Its writing style mimics memory – it’s visual, non-linear and deeply personal. It’s been marketed in such a way that it sounds like a gritty recount of surviving the holocaust (this seems to sell books) but instead of this it gets right inside the emotional experience of a Jewish German boy leading up to WW2, which makes for fascinating reading. He witnessed first hand the change in society's attitudes and saw his peers turn away from him both with guilt and with hatred. The memoirs are also recollections of a much earlier time in history that verges on the romantic, although deeply sinister undertones are still present.
Keilson gives extremely honest accounts of his life. His stories are fluid and overlapping, and in less than 100 pages the reader comes away with a very clear idea of the kind of man he was – he is not masked by metaphors and poetic language. The book is under-written and gets you right inside the mind of Keilson, which is not surprising from a psychiatrist, but a unique trait for a writer.
This edition is the first English translation of the book that was written in the 90s and only recently rediscovered. It contains a forward by translator Elena Lappin who is clearly a huge fan - a common trait amongst literary people - and following the memoir is the transcription of an interview with Keilson, who passed away in 2011. He is astoundingly humble, witty and wise. Released by the Melbourne's Scribe Publications, There Stands My House is a beautifully written account of a life lived during a pivotal time in our history.