A
Literary Saloon
&
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.



Contents:
Main
the Best
the Rest
Review Index
Links

weblog

crQ

to e-mail us:


support the site


buy us books !
Amazon wishlist



In Association with Amazon.com


In association with Amazon.com - UK


In association with Amazon.ca - Canada


In 
Partnerschaft 
mit 
Amazon.de

the Complete Review

A Literary Saloon and Site of Review


     

Kertész Imre
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: KERTÉSZ Imre
Nationality: Hungarian
Born: 9 November 1929
Awards: Nobel Prize, 2002

  • Survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald
  • Worked as a translator from the German, including the works of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Freud, Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler, Canetti, Thomas Bernhard and Peter Weiss.

Return to top of page.


Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Fatelessness - novel, 1975 (Sorstalanság, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2004; previously trans. as Fateless (1992) by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson)
  • The Pathseeker - novella, 1977 (A A nyomkereső, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2008)
  • Detective Story - novella, 1977 (Detektívtörténet, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2008)
  • Fiasco - novel, 1988 (A kudarc, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2011)
  • Kaddish for an Unborn Child - novel, 1990 (Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2004; previously trans. as Kaddish for a child not born (1997) by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson)
  • The Union Jack - story, 1991 (Az angol lobogó, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2010)
  • Gályanapló - diary, 1992
  • A holocaust mint kultúra - essay, 1993 (in The Holocaust as Culture, trans. Thomas Cooper, 2011)
  • Jegyzokönyv - story, 1993
  • Valaki más - diary/fiction, 1997
  • A gondolatnyi csend - essays, 1998
  • A számuzött nyelv - essays, 2001
  • Liquidation - novel, 2003 (Felszámolás, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2004)
  • Dossier K. - autobiographical, 2006 (K. dosszié, trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2013)
  • The Holocaust as Culture - non-fiction, 2011; trans. Thomas Cooper

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

Return to top of page.


Quotes

What others have to
say about
Imre Kertesz:

  • "Other writers seem to be overwhelmed by the dirty waves of party politics; Kertesz, however, is saved by a stubborn concentration on his work and by the solid conviction that "a good artist has no choice but to tell the truth and to tell it in a radical manner." " - George Gomori, World Literature Today (Spring/1993)

  • "Indem sie den doppelten Boden der Literatur ganz nach aussen faltet, will Kertesz' Ästhetik des Schreckens ein deutungsloses Zeichen setzen. Die Erfüllung seiner Kunst kann am Ende nur in ihrer Verweigerung liegen -- davor muss auch die Kritik zurücktreten." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (27/4/1996)

  • "Sowenig Imre Kertész, der Überwältigte, "Bewältigungsliteratur" schreibt, so wenig ist es ihm um Erbauungsprosa zu tun; sein Denken gewährt keinen Trost, sein Schreiben nur den Aufschub -- dieser Autor irritiert, auch wo man sich lesend gegen seine gleichmacherische Suada behaupten zu müssen glaubt." - Karl-Markus Gauss, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (6/5/1998)

  • "Imre Kertész ist eine Überraschung gelungen. Mit seinem neuen Roman Fiasko hat er das Bild gründlich verändert, das die deutschen Leser bislang von ihm hatten. Bisher galt Kertész als Autor von autobiografischer und gewichtiger Reflektionsprosa. Fiasko nun beweist: Er ist auch ein Meister der Fiktion." - Hans-Harald Müller, Die Welt (9/10/1999)

  • "Für Kertesz scheint die Antwort auf diese vorlaute Frage klar und klar auch, dass er Adornos viel zitiertes und beflissen missverstandenes Diktum, Dichtung nach Auschwitz wäre barbarisch, nur auf den Kopf gestellt verstehen könnte, dass nämlich nur im Zeichen dieses Menetekels geschrieben werden kann, was als Literatur noch zählt." - Reinhard Baumgart, Die Zeit (42/1999)

  • "Immer wieder ist die Verzweiflung in Kertész' Büchern so stark, dass für die Hoffnung auf eine Antwort überhaupt kein Raum zu bleiben scheint. Aber immer wieder spricht Kertesz auch von der Erfahrung des Holocaust als einer kathartischen Erfahrung, und sei es nur der Möglichkeit nach. Und er spricht von seinem intakt gebliebenen Glauben an ursprüngliche Werte, ohne den er kein Werk, ohne den er nichts hätte zu Stande bringen können." - Bernhard Schlink, Laudatio at the WELT-Literaturpreis (9/11/2000)

  • "Imre Kertesz ist in seinen Aufzeichnungen stets ein präziser Seismograph der eigenen Traumatisierung geblieben. Mit desperater Hellsichtigkeit hat er die Tatsache seines Überlebens umkreist -- als Scham und als Schuld, als Auftrag und Aporie. Dabei gilt das Notieren der Aufrechterhaltung, keineswegs der Stilllegung des Schmerzes. Dieser treibt das Denken ins Offene und gibt zugleich Halt in einer als bodenlos erfahrenen Wirklichkeit." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (11/10/2002)

  • "But, while Kertesz's entire literary output is given over to the Holocaust, which, for Hungarian Jews, began after March 19, 1944, when the Germans overran the country, his approach to it is less documentary or memoir-driven, more an enormous effort to understand and find a language for what the Holocaust says about the human condition. For Kertesz it is less a question of what happened, at one particular historical instant, to the Jews as such; but what the phenomenon says about Europe in particular and humanity in general." - George Szirtes, Times Literary Supplement (18/10/2002)

  • "Imre Kertész's literary work, for the greater part, has always been obscured by his subject, and it will take a goodly lapse of time yet for that not to obscure it." - Péter Nádas, The Hungarian Quarterly (Winter/2002)

  • "With each novel, it has become clearer that Kertész is working his way toward a "post-Auschwitz language," one able to capture what he believes to be a changed reality. He calls this language atonal because it declares "tonality" (the presence of a tonal center) to be no longer valid. In literature there was once a tonic, he argues, a commonly recognized morality to which a scale of values stood in fixed relationship, but totalitarianism transformed the language in which that morality had been expressed into what George Orwell called "Newspeak." " - Lee Congdon, World & I (3/2003)

  • "And if his importance is marginally granted, it is also misapprehended. Kertész is a holocaust writer, no question. But he has a way of breaking the somber historical frame and setting it before us as unfinished business -- revealing, indeed, that it cannot be finished, moved on from. This is not to deny that his is an art of appropriately anguished witness, but to stress taht it is searching and visionary beyond the usual parameters." - Sven Birkerts, Bookforum (12/2004-1/2005)

  • "It is the logic of this survival -- that he can "no longer survive, did not wish to survive, indeed probably was not even capable of survival" -- that Kertész's work, from novel to novel, traces in all of its complexity, brilliantly, poetically, relentlessly." - Amos Friedland, The Globe and Mail (27/11/2004)

  • "Es gibt wenige Schriftsteller, die so radikal in Frage gestellt haben wie Imre Kertész. Angesiedelt am Nullpunkt der Existenz, transportiert sein Werk den tiefsten Ernst mit den Mitteln des Zweifels, der Ambivalenz und der Ironie. Es atmet die Grösse menschlicher Niederlage." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (2/10/2006)

  • "Es gibt nur wenige Autoren, die den Bankrott, der das vorige Jahrhundert für die Menschheitsgeschichte bedeutet, so radikal denken und beschreiben konnten wie Imre Kertész." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit (26/10/2006)

  • "A defining trait of Kertész’s art is an elegant pathos (one no contemporary can equal) in addressing the intertwined violence besetting political history and aesthetic form in the 20th century." - Sam Munson, The National (18/2/2010)

Return to top of page.


Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Powerful works
  • Very deliberate and controlled writing
  • Sense of humour
  • Humility
  • Singular focus -- absolutely everything in his writing returns to the Holocaust

    Cons:
  • Translation issues -- lack thereof, confusing double translations, general difficulty of translating his texts
  • Singular focus -- absolutely everything in his writing returns to the Holocaust

Return to top of page.


the complete review's Opinion

     A Hungarian Jew (but never one who felt very Jewish), teenager Kertész Imre was rounded up in 1944 and sent to concentration camps in Auschwitz (briefly), Buchenwald, and Zeitz. It is these experiences that are the foundation of all his writing, casting their long shadow over it. Coupled with his experiences in totalitarian Hungary -- a life still far from free -- his books are among the ultimate reflections of the consequences of the two great failed experiments of the 20th century, fascism and Soviet-style communism.
     Working mainly as a translator (of literary and philosophical texts), Kertesz shows great care with language -- and surprising versatility. Fatelessness is deliberately straightforward, while later texts circle back within themselves in Thomas Bernhard-like reflections. The stark humility and the generous (and often surprising) gentle humour found throughout his works stand in contrast to much of the bitter Holocaust literature -- though Kertesz books are ultimately no less sharp or resonant for that.
     Only a limited number of Kertesz works are available in English translation as of 2004, making it difficulty to fully appreciate his range and talents; nevertheless, what little there is is -- in the new Tim Wilkinson translations ! -- well worth seeking out.

     Special mention must be made of the translation issues surrounding Kertesz's works. When he was awarded the Nobel prize in 2002 only two titles were available in English, Fateless and Kaddish for a child not born, both translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson (and published by Northwestern University Press). Only in 2004 were these replaced by the Tim Wilkinson translations (published by Vintage in the US), under the titles Fatelessness and Kaddish for an Unborn Child.
     In a profile by Dylan Foley in The Journal News (7 November 2004), Kertesz has his say about the original situation:
"I really tried to protest against the first translations, but I found complete rejection," Kertész says. "The publisher (Northwestern University) was not willing to do new translations. It was a really bad feeling. It was as if you had a very sane character who has a rendezvous with the reader and the person who shows up is basically a real jerk, with a stammer, bad breath and a foul mouth."

The first translators did their own inaccurate interpretations of his work. "The translators didn't understand what I wrote about," says Kertész, still cringing. "The radical nature of my words was something that estranged them. They thought in the interest of the reader, they would make the text more human, to round it off and chisel it a bit."
     As to Wilkinson's efforts, Kertesz is enthusiastic: "I got carried away with Tim Wilkinson's new translations (.....) I'm extremely overjoyed."
     Kertesz's works obviously are not easy to translate: the Germans also had to take a second stab at Fatelessness to get it right (translations appeared in 1990 and 1996), and in World Literature Today (Fall/1993) Clara Gyorgyey reported of the Wilson translation of Fateless:
This is its first published English version -- and the most adequate so far. Several earlier attempts by different translators had been rejected by the author as "overstated" or "too sophisticated."
     Readers should be aware which translations meet the author's approval (Wilkinson's) and which don't (the Wilsons'). Sales of the Wilson translations were apparently very good in the wake of the Nobel-announcement, and they have only recently been pulled from bookstores (though they are still widely available as remainders): readers who made the mistake of thinking they were getting Kertesz's works when they bought these should, of course, take another look -- at the new translations. (Special care should be taken in libraries, where the Wilson translations have generally not been purged from shelves; certainly, we would recommend that readers wait for the new translations.)

Return to top of page.


Links

Kertész Imre: Kertész Imre books at the complete review: See also:

Return to top of page.



© 2004-2013 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links