Review: Gilgi by Irmgard Keun, Translated by Geoff Wilkes
Melville House | November 2013 | Reviewed by Amanda Horn
As a part of the Neversink Library from Melville House, a series focusing on overlooked international literature, Gilgi by Irmgard Keun was originally published in Germany in 1931. With complex characters and a vivid historical setting, this book tells the story of Gilgi, a young woman coming-of-age in Germany during the rise of fascism.
Independent and ambitious, Gilgi takes care to stay healthy, studies foreign languages, and fastidiously saves her income as a secretary. She considers herself a modern woman, putting her resources toward bettering herself rather than investing in romantic engagements. Things change when Gilgi falls for Martin, an older man who is her complete opposite: a drifter, living in the moment with no plan, and no savings. Following some unexpected and startling news about her family, Gilgi takes a risk by moving in with Martin, and soon finds herself struggling to maintain her own identity and ambitions as fascism gains momentum in Germany.
As a character, Gilgi is strangely compelling and familiar—she is a young woman we have all met, even eighty years after the book was written. She sometimes comes off as naive, sometimes vapid, but hardworking, energetic, and innocent. She is much more intelligent than people give her credit for, including herself, and as the narrative follows her struggles, it also follows her path of self-discovery, her growth and development into a true modern woman.
The author Irmgard Keun has all the makings of a literary legend—frank and unapologetic, she butted heads with the Nazi regime on several occasions. Her second novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, was blacklisted, and she even went so far as to sue the Gestapo for blocking her royalties. Eventually facing a death sentence, Keun fled the country and staged her own suicide before secretly re-entering Germany to live under cover during the war.
In Gilgi, Keun addresses issues that are still relevant—single motherhood, sexual harassment, abortion, society’s expectations, and what it means to be an independent woman. With a strong translation by Geoff Wilkes and a gorgeous cover, this book is an elegant and concise examination of female independence, modern morality, and the social and political environment of pre-Nazi Germany. Gilgi is a must-read for lovers of literature, history, women’s studies, and engaging stories.
For more information, please visit Melville House’s website.
Imgard Keun, Translated by Geoff Wilkes
Posted: Mar 27, 2014
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