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the complete review - fiction
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- Hungarian title: Felszámolás
- Translated by Tim Wilkinson
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A- : testament to the difficulties individuals have coming to terms with history
See our review for fuller assessment.
|The Globe and Mail
||Shmuel T. Huppert
|The LA Times
|The NY Times Book Rev.
|Neue Zürcher Zeitung
|The Village Voice
|The Washington Post
||Melvin Jules Bukiet
From the Reviews:
- "Liquidation is a novel very much in the tradition of postwar European modernism. We hear echoes of Kundera, Frisch, and Dürrenmatt in the reflexive collage format, though the headlong anxious asservations of Bernhard are also never out of earshot." - Sven Birkerts, Bookforum
- "With its shifts of voice and literary form, this brief fiction showcases the author's mastery of style and his intellectual sophistication while portraying in miniature a milieu in which life is an existential dilemma." - Amanda Heller, Boston Globe
- "Liquidation is a short novel that bears a sadness disproportionate to its length. Despite the unshakeable influence of Auschwitz, it has all the fragmentation familiar to earlier postmodern literature, and those who read for the pleasures of rich prose will be disappointed. It is an undeniably tragic work, and for all its mechanical literary diversions it has a pathos and resonance that transcend the morbid legacy from which it springs." - Natalie Whittle, Financial Times
- "Liquidation ist eine Art Summe seines Werks -- und zugleich eine zögernde Abkehr vom düsteren Pessimismus: eine erzählerische Selbstentfesselung, in der Kertesz seine Dialektik vom Untergang und Überleben der traumatischen Wirklichkeit in der Literatur spielerischer und befreiter als je zuvor entfaltet. Auschwitz bleibt, ungesagt oder als Trumpfkarte ausgespielt, das beherrschende Thema aller Gespräche, Gedanken und Handlungen. Aber noch nie ist Kertész so souverän und ironisch mit seinem schicksallosen Schicksalsstoff umgegangen." - Martin Halter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
- "Man hört das Beckett'sche Lachen im Hintergrund, das man von Kertész bisher nicht kannte. Auch das atemberaubende Tempo ist neu. Unter dem dünnen, zynisch angehauchten Firnis dieses Gelächters (Höllengelächters ? Hohngelächters ?) verhandelt Liquidation - oft skizzenhaft, streckenweise irrwitzig spannend -- eine Fülle von gewichtigen Themen" - Ina Hartwig, Frankfurter Rundschau
- "Liquidation's real literary value lies in its relation to its prequels, the way in which it subtly, even perversely, plays with the themes of these earlier novels." - Amos Friedland, The Globe and Mail
- "On the level of plot, characterisation and narrative craft, Liquidation is an ill-made thing indeed. (...) The real power of Liquidation -- and it is a powerful book, despite its flaws -- lies in the corrosive intensity of Kertész's disillusionment and the fervency of his desire to communicate it to us." - Michel Faber, The Guardian
- "Liquidation is short, but it contains so much: lucid and illuminating reflections on life under communism, divorce, the agonising futility of a life spent in literature (...), denunciations, in the manner of Thomas Bernhard, of artistic appreciation (...), quite apart from the larger issues it addresses. It seems astonishing that a 130-page novella can have such scope and depth." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
- "Kertesz, whose name sounds a lot like Keseru, is good at describing emotional suffering, but he, too, has no convincing answer for the greatest existential question of them all." - Shmuel Thomas Huppert, Ha'aretz
- "(A)n exceptionally bleak fiction set in Budapest 10 years after the collapse of Communism. With the death of the old ideological certainties, the Hungarian capital appears to have lost its identity. (...) Liquidation, suspenseful and bleakly comic, reads like a treatise on the mystery of the end of life and the mystery of suicide. I found it a compelling if deeply unsettling work." - Ian Thomson, The Independent
- "Yet it would be a mistake to imagine that Liquidation, any more than Molloy, is the product of postmodernist game-playing. Kertész, like Beckett, is deadly serious -- in the case of both writers that adjective is in no way figurative -- and his work is a profound meditation on the great and enduring themes of love, death and the problem of evil, although for Kertesz, as we shall see, it's not evil that is the problem but good." - John Banville, The Nation
- "Not since Kafka or Beckett -- both clear influences (the epigraph to Liquidation is from Beckett's Molloy) -- has a writer packed so much metaphysics into so tight a space. At times almost playful, at times harrowing, the novel weaves multiple voices and textures into a meditation on reading and writing, activities here inseparable from life itself." - Ruth Franklin, The New York Times Book Review
- "Indem Kertész ein potenziell unendliches System installiert, in welchem sich das Prinzip der Vernichtung selbstähnlich fortpflanzt, provoziert er einmal mehr das humanistisch-christliche Paradigma von Prüfung, Läuterung und Erlösung. Leid -- formuliert als Überleben nach Holocaust und Totalitarismus -- macht buchstäblich keinen Sinn, sondern es verzehrt ihn." - Christiane Zintzen, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
- "The epigrammatical style is reminiscent of Beckett, a quotation from whom acts as epigraph to the book. the dry humour and laconic use of dialogue is also Beckettian, as is the prevailing sense of life's utter meaninglessness." - Christina Konig, The Times
- "The reflexive metahunt for the missing manuscript is a well-worn theme, but Kertész breathes new life into the postmodern jape. He is ludic, provocative, and his protagonist is a creative triumph. (...) Wilkinson's deft translation sustains a tragicomic tone. (...) Imre Kertész weaves a stimulating metaphysical inquiry into a pleasing yarn." - Toby Lichtig, Times Literary Supplement
- "It is not, in the end, a successful book. Kertesz quickly drops his prescient play-within-a-novel and only picks it up again as an occasional afterthought. He twists off too many narrative and meta-narrative strands, then seems to forget which ones he's holding and how they intertwine. It's a novel in tatters, which is of course part of the point" - Ben Ehrenreich, The Village Voice
- "(A) continuous shriek of pain leavened by metafictional diversion." - Melvin Jules Bukiet, The Washington Post
- "Die Neuigkeit von Kertész` Roman besteht in einer ungewöhnlich stürmischen Handlung: Es gibt Krimispannung und häufige Perspektivenwechsel. Außerdem finden wir eine rhythmische Abwechslung von Prosa, Theaterstück und sogar Gedichten. Was man tadeln könnte, ist die Skizzenhaftigkeit der Nebenfiguren (Judit, Kürti, Dr. Obláth) und mancherorts die übertriebene Länge der Dialoge." - György Dalos, Die Welt
- "Es geht, wie gesagt, um Auschwitz und nicht um romantische Ironie. Es geht nicht um die heitere Unendlichkeit sich unablässig spiegelnder Fiktionen. Es geht um Tod, Mord, Selbstmord und Liquidation. (...) Es wird solche Bücher, Romane von solcher Ernsthaftigkeit über das größte Verbrechen der menschlichen Geschichte, in Zukunft nicht mehr geben. Liquidation ist ein einzigartiges literarisches, menschliches und historisches Dokument, das hellsichtig genug ist, von seiner eigenen Auslöschung zu handeln. Mit diesem Buch ist eine Epoche zu Ende gegangen." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit
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:
Felszámolás (now available in English translation as Liquidation) is a multi-layered novella.
It is set in Budapest in 1999, and narrated by Keserü.
The events he is most concerned with, however, took place in 1990, when a friend, called only B. (or Bé) committed suicide.
Bé's death weighs on Keserü and his colleagues.
Bé was a writer and a translator (of, among others, Thomas Bernhard and Peter Weiss -- as was Kertesz) -- and an Auschwitz survivor.
His story is a remarkable one: he was actually born in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in December 1944, among the very few children born to prisoners to survive, the infamous identification number tattooed on his leg because it did not fit on his infant-arm.
Felszámolás is also a text-within-the-text: a piece Keserü constantly returns to (and quotes from extensively) is a play by Bé, the three-act comedy Felszámolás ("Liquidation").
It eerily presages the actual events of 1999, with Keserü and some of Bé's other acquaintances appearing in it, documenting the post-Soviet era transition, in particular for the publishing house they work for, which is being liquidated because it is not a viable business.
(As one of the character points out, the previous regime's state subsidy that had kept the publishing house afloat was merely a different means of liquidating literature (by controlling it absolutely).)
The characters recognise that nothing will remain as before.
Bé, for one, couldn't go on, and already opted out nearly a decade earlier.
Keserü, called to the scene of Bé's death in 1990, did not immediately contact the authorities, but rather sequestered some of Bé's manuscripts.
There was one, however, -- a novel -- that he is certain exists, but which he can't find.
Much of Felszámolás revolves around his attempts to prove the existence of the novel, and to find it.
(The missing book in question closely resembles Kertész's own earlier work.)
Keserü has suffered for a small act of defiance at the publishing house during the communist regime; he lost his wife and family, but did eventually regain a foothold in the literary environment so necessary for him.
But it is Bé, the true artist, whose success (and specifically the success of that one final, lost book) he lives for -- which is why, even after the death of the author, he so desperately seeks the final opus magnum he is sure Bé completed.
The personal lives of several of the characters are recounted, each trying to come to terms with a post-Auschwitz world in a different manner, as Felszámolás is yet another attempt to consider both life and art in light of what nevertheless remains unspeakable, unwriteable, and unknowable.
Kertész paints effective portraits of a variety of troubled souls, and many of the personal elements of the stories -- from everything from Bé's and Keserü's love-lives to the question where the fatal dose of morphine came from --, as well as the background (burgeoning capitalist society, still suffused with stale communist-era air) make for a remarkable, compelling story.
Throughout, the main concern is with writing, and the possibility of writing (which, as always for Kertész, is all that allows for the possibility of living), of literature in a post-Auschwitz -- or, indeed, any -- world.
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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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