FIRE AND KNOWLEDGE by Péter Nádas

FIRE AND KNOWLEDGE

Fiction and Essays
by & translated by
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KIRKUS REVIEW

From Budapest-born Nádas (Love, 2000, etc.), a collection of fiction and essays, spanning roughly 40 years.

The pieces are arranged neither chronologically nor thematically but instead rather randomly, the book ending with a haunting one-sentence story entitled “Way,” a geographical prose-poem about wandering urban streets between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. The heftiest work is “Lady Klára’s House,” a story bordering on a novella. Nádas, a literary descendant of Matthew Arnold and others in the moral tradition of criticism, examines childhood dread (“Liar, Cheater”), politics (“The Great Christmas Killing,” about the execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu), family memory (“Homecoming,” about his father’s suicide) and the European literary tradition (“On Thomas Mann’s Diaries”) with an intense, sensitive—and occasionally harrowing—critical gaze. One of Nádas’s most interesting early pieces is “Vivisection,” in which on the surface he recounts a model undressing in a studio; on a deeper level, however, he examines the elusive ways language can (and cannot) capture the reality of experience—and also the ways it distorts our perceptions of any given event. He concludes that “the ambiguity of facts is unavoidable.” In a spasm of autobiographical insight in “Homecoming,” Nádas states, “I was born to be an onlooker…Neither here nor there, I live in a state of in between.” Such a position offers him a freedom of evaluation and judgment on display throughout these pages.

A book that enlarges our sense of the moral, political and literary worlds we inhabit.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-374-29964-4
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2007




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