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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Union Jack

Kertész Imre

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To purchase The Union Jack

Title: The Union Jack
Author: Kertész Imre
Genre: Story
Written: 1991 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 76 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: The Union Jack - US
The Union Jack - UK
The Union Jack - Canada
The Union Jack - India
Le drapeau anglais - France
Die englische Flagge - Deutschland
  • Hungarian title: Az angol lobogó
  • Translated by Tim Wilkinson

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressive small reflective piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 7/12/2002 Hubert Spiegel
The National . 18/2/2010 Sam Munson

  From the Reviews:
  • "This story turns out to a brief, lucid, irresistibly forceful account of the narrator’s awakening as an artist-in-embryo while experiencing the operatic thunderstorm of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre. His new-found, insatiable appetite for intellectual grandeur and insight leads him to Thomas Mann’s essays on Wagner, then to Hungary’s Italian Institute, from whose doorway he witnesses the first of the anti-Soviet demonstrations that erupted in Budapest in the late 1956." - Sam Munson, The National

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Union Jack is a short work, told in a roundabout way. It opens:

     If I may perchance wish now, after all, to tell the story of the Union Jack, as I was urged to do at a friendly gathering a few days -- or months -- ago
       But it is only on page 69 (of the 76-page text) that he actually describes the scene -- i.e. tells that part of the story --, where:
A hurtling jeep-like vehicle suddenly appeared, with the British red-white-and-blue colours, a Union Jack, draped over the entire radiator.
       What comes before leads up to that, but what Kertész does is different from the usual story build-up. At one point he acknowledges: "I shall be obliged at this point to digress slightly", but the narrative can seem like a work of continuous digression(s). Instead, of course, -- and as also suggested by the fact that the text consists of a single unbroken paragraph -- Kertész wants to demonstrate that everything is (inter)connected.
       The Union Jack looks back to Kertész's formative years -- less his childhood than the years of trying to find a purpose, and a role in life (and a job). He warns that to tell the story of the Union Jack properly: "I would have to tell almost my entire life story"; what he manages so well here is to cut that down to a few essentials, a few episodes and influences and memories. From his introduction to Richard Wagner's Die Walküre and the meaning the work would hold for him ("the poison had penetrated deep within me, permeated me through and through"), to a book which he felt "marked the start of the radicalisation of my life, when my way of life and its formulation would no longer be able to stand in any sort of contradiction with one another", Kertész offers a surprisingly rich, suggestive account of the man and writer he would become.
       It is a story of the "disaster-era", culminating in the events of 1956 (which is when the Union Jack-sighting takes place) and largely ignores Kertész's experiences during World War II (extensively chronicled in several of his other works). More narrowly focused on adapting to post-war Hungary and Communist rule (and repression, in all its arbitrariness, as several of the episodes attest to), Kertész describes finding a hold in Wagner's music, and in books (always a reader, the experience of reading also changes for him in this period).
       It is a reflective work, looking back and revisiting the past, with Kertész repeatedly emphasizing the present-day perspective he takes and analytical about the author as a young man.
       Kertész also expresses constant doubt and suspicion about the literary enterprise itself, explaining the sort of writer he has become:
If I search for formulations, then I usually search for them outside literature; if I were to strive for formulations, I would probably refrain from formulations that are literary formulations, because -- and maybe it suffices to leave it at this; indeed, there is truly nothing more that I can say -- literature has fallen under suspicion. It is to be feared that formulations that have been steeped in the solvent of literature never again win back their density and lifelikeness.
       In all his work Kertész struggles with -- and addresses the question of -- how to convey and present his material, and The Union Jack is another attempt at trying to figure that out. It's an effort well worth engaging with: The Union Jack is an unusual piece of fiction, but rewarding on many levels.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 February 2010

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The Union Jack: Reviews: Kertesz Imre: Other books by Kertész Imre under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Kertész Imre was born in 1929. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize for literature

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© 2010-2012 the complete review

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