Kertész, the first Hungarian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, interrogates himself in a provocative memoir that will deepen the understanding of those already familiar with his novels.
Published in 2006, this unusual transcript receives its first English translation and American publication, providing the author’s perspective on novels that challenge the distinction between fiction and reality as well as conventional notions of the Holocaust and totalitarianism. His renown rests on a series of novels—Fatelessness (1975), Fiasco (1988) and Kaddish for an Unborn Child (1990)—that were little-known in the West until after the Nobel and which have frequently been described as unsentimental. After a childhood in a broken family in Budapest, Kertész was imprisoned in Nazi death camps at the age of 14 and survived due in part to a forged record of his death. He subsequently became a journalist and a communist following the end of the war before turning to fiction. He rejects the very term “Holocaust” as “a euphemism, a cowardly and unimaginative glibness,” while spurning the conventional categorization of his work: “I never called Fatelessness a Holocaust novel like others do, because what they call ‘the Holocaust’ cannot be put into a novel.” Kertész acknowledges the profound influence of and his deep affinity for Kafka, Mann and Camus, while maintaining, “I don’t know what the truth is. I don’t know whether it is my job to know what the truth is, in any case. Truth-telling artists generally prove to be bad artists. Anyone who is right generally proves not to be right.” Such provocation fills practically every page of this memoir by an author who hasn’t mellowed with age and who continues to believe that “everything is in flux, there is no foothold, and yet we still write as though there were.”
The author’s novels may provide a better introduction to his work, but this memoir will help to further illuminate them.