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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Valaki más

Kertész Imre

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Title: Valaki más
Author: Kertész Imre
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: Un autre - France
Ich -- ein anderer - Deutschland
  • A változás krónikája
  • Valaki más has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

A- : simple, affecting novella

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 6/5/1998 Karl-Markus Gauss
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 26/3/1998 Andreas Breitenstein
Wiener Zeitung A 26/6/1998 Vladimir Vertlib

  Review Consensus:


  From the Reviews:
  • "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

  • "Ich - ein anderer ist nicht zuletzt das Produkt einer Schaffenskrise. Durch das dichte und wohl gestaltete Gewebe aus Anekdoten und Beobachtungen, Träumen und Erinnerungen, Gegenwartsdiagnosen und philosophischen Reflexionen schimmert das Nichts hindurch. Wo sich die Aufzeichnungen (mitunter auch auf ausgetretenen Denkpfaden) zu Aphorismen verdichten, ist die Rhetorik nicht weit." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(E)ines glänzend geschriebenen, oft selbstironischen, nicht zuletzt auch spannenden philosophischen Essays, der gleichzeitig ein fragmentarisches Tagebuch der Jahre 1992 bis 1995 darstellt. Kertösz' Buch beinhaltet nicht nur rein reflexive, sondern auch brillante erzählerische Passagen, Traumsequenzen und Rückblenden." - Vladimir Vertlib, Wiener Zeitung

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:

       Like almost all his fiction, Imre Kertész's novella, Valaki más, is largely autobiographical. Here there isn't even an attempt to disguise the central character: the first person narrator is obviously Kertész himself, and the book itself far more memoir than fiction.
       One might wonder why this autobiographical account is billed as a novel. The answer is clear, given already by Kertész in the epigraphs that open the book -- specifically one attributed to I.K. (i.e. Kertész himself), which begins: "I is a fiction". Identity itself is, for Kertész, a construct, and any written attempt to capture even actual events is a fiction.
       The book is an attempt to understand what (or who) that "I" is, and what has made and changed him. Another of the epigraphs is Rimbaud's famous "Je est un autre" ("I is another"), and it is the pervasive watchword of the novel, as Kertész makes a great deal of the disconnect between self and perception of self. The book is subtitled: "A változás krónikája", and it chronicles the transformation of his self (and of his perception of his self).
       In summary it all sounds a bit wearyingly soul searching, but it's anything but. For one, Kertesz's self-obsession isn't of the tiresome navel-gazing kind. And while there are philosophical musings, Kertész has a refreshing and often unexpected take on things. Permanently marked by his Auschwitz-experiences, and now a Jew in modern Hungary, he knows the significance of these aspects of his identity, and yet he can't always identify with them.

       The book begins in 1991, and tells of events of the next five or so years. Much of the time is spent abroad (in one year he only spends three months in his native Budapest): with the fall of the communist regime he is free(r) to travel, and takes full advantage of the new opportunities, accepting many invitations to read and speak abroad. Kertesz offers vignettes from the various places he travels to and through: Vienna, Zurich, Berlin, Leipzig, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere. But there's little certainty to be found in his almost refugee-like wanderings either. And on the first page -- tellingly a rare Budapest scene -- he reveals part of his fundamental dilemma:

     Why do I feel so lost ? Evidently because I am lost.
       In Vienna he works on a translation of Wittgenstein (later abandoned -- his publisher forget to buy the rights ...), a self-hating Jewish figure that intrigues him yet doesn't provide the mirror he needs. He finds no traces of Wittgenstein in Vienna, he claims (meaning: he did not seek any out), but many of Vienna in Wittgenstein. To him Wittgenstein is a mystic -- "like Kafka. Except that he worked with different material: with logic."
       Kertész is constantly confronted by pasts, but whether it is the childhood memory of hearing of Dollfuß' assassination or daily passing by a plaque memorializing Moritz Schlick, murdered in 1936 by a deranged student who believed his philosophy was evil (and who, Kertesz notes, only served two years for his crime) they do not much help him position himself in his present. The past -- especially and including his Auschwitz experiences -- is instructive but remains at a remove. The personal experiences seem always to have touched that autre je, the other I -- and even his books, when he considers them, appear to have been written by another.
       He reveals: his only identity comes in writing. "Eine sich selbst schreibende Identität" he suggests, in a parenthetical German aside: his is "a self-writing identity". For a while Kertész works on a play; the main figure is a suicide, a reflection of his own constant written self-reinvention (that necessitates if not the death at least the loss of the previous identity). "I die constantly, in every work", he admits; each finished fiction closing the book on a self.
       The world overwhelms him. "God created the world, man created Auschwitz" sums up where he stands and how he sees the world. He knew and suffered Auschwitz first hand, and can't overcome it: it is part of his being, and his life has been a series of rewriting what existence in a post-Auschwitz world means.
       Towards the end of the book Kertész travels to Israel, sightseeing with Aharon Appelfeld (and later also Iris Murdoch and John Bailey -- a strange cameo where all fictional pretense is completely lost). He can't identify with especially the orthodox Jews of Israel: he is a different kind of Jew. He doesn't feel part of the Jewish community here, bound together by their faith, claiming -- not entirely convincingly -- : "Already for a long time I haven't been searching for a homeland or identity".
       The book then closes off with a surprising turn. Kertész isn't obvious about it -- it comes unexpectedly, with little preparation, yet in retrospect one sees that all this wandering and summing up is meant to allow for this. The book ends with a tragic loss, and one finds that beside memoir and novel it is also a love-letter that is all the more poignant because of his subtle, roundabout approach.

       Kertész's fiction is unlike most any other. The repetitive, self-reflexive aspects (and a certain Central European sensibility) remind of Thomas Bernhard, but though he too sees the world as a dark place he remains surprisingly cheerful. (He and Bernhard are also, despite their often dark subject matters, both very funny writers, but Kertész is also much more generous in his humour.) Valaki más -- and, it seems, all of Kertész's fiction -- is genuinely life-affirming, while still always recognizing (and, in some sense, understanding) the horrors man is capable of. Recommended.

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Valaki más: 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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© 2003-2013 the complete review

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