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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary


The Holocaust as Culture

Kertész Imre

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To purchase The Holocaust as Culture

Title: The Holocaust as Culture
Author: Kertész Imre
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2011)
Length: 78 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: The Holocaust as Culture - US
The Holocaust as Culture - UK
The Holocaust as Culture - Canada
The Holocaust as Culture - India
  • Translated by Thomas Cooper
  • Includes:
    • Imre Kertész and the Post-Auschwitz Condition by Thomas Cooper (2011)
    • A Conversation with Imre Kertész (2010)
    • The Holocaust as Culture by Kertész (translation of A holocaust mint kultúra (1992))

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good small introduction to the author and his work

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       A decade after being awarded the Nobel Prize, Kertész Imre remains shamefully underappreciated and too little known and read in the English-speaking world. The small volume The Holocaust as Culture suggests some of the reasons why this may be the case; it also offers a good and very accessible introduction to the author and his work and in this way -- one hopes -- might lead more readers to it.
       The Holocaust as Culture collects three separate pieces: an Introduction by Thomas Cooper offering an overview of Imre Kertész and the Post-Auschwitz Condition; a conversation between Kertész and Cooper; and the title-piece, an address delivered by Kertész as part of a Jean Améry Symposium in 1992 (also available here, in a different translation).
       As Cooper discusses in his Introduction, and then in conversation with Kertész, the author's experience publishing (and trying to publish) his works in then-still Communist Hungary are revealing. As Cooper suggests:

Kertész's works can be read as attempts to do so, attempts at commemoration that resist the transformation of memory into myth and history into ideology.
       Kertész's Fatelessness was rejected by Hungarian publisher Magvető because it did not meet the ideological expectations of a 'Holocaust'-novel. Kertész's treatment of the subject matter -- neutral and descriptive, avoiding any sentimentality -- was at odds with how the camp-horrors of the Second World War were expected to be presented; his also remains largely at odds with the prevalent representations found in contemporary fiction, which may be one reason why English-speaking readers have not taken to Kertész's works as readily as elsewhere (Cooper mentions the difficulty his own students have with Fatelessness, given that it does not nicely: "yield to any allegorical interpretation").
       Kertész does believe that: "Auschwitz is unique in history" -- specifically in its: "whole complex machinery of extermination" -- but sees the underlying horror as a much more broad-based one. Specifically, he argues:
We speak of collective guilt, of the collective guilt of the German nation. But Auschwitz is the collective crime of the entire world, not just of the German nation. If we think of the Holocaust as a war between Germans and Jews then we will never understand it.
       He thinks it's essential that:
the very civilization within the framework of which the Holocaust occurred must reflect on it. Otherwise it too will become a civilization of accident and mishap, no more than a debilitated organism drifting helplessly towards annihilation.
       Certainly, Kertész's own work, and his reflections on the Holocaust, have contributed to some understanding. Ironically, one reason he has been able to do so was that in the Hungary in which he first emerged as a writer, he did so in relative obscurity:
Yes, I was entirely unknown. I was lucky in this sense because I wrote as I pleased and no one gave a damn.
       Of course, his work did not go completely unrecognized -- culminating in his being honored with the 2002 Nobel Prize. Yet even if his work is not quite so difficult to find any longer (he amusingly describes trying to get his hands on his own books back in the day in Hungary), there is no question that it has not yet found the place (and readers) it deserves.
       Cooper does a fine job in introducing the author, first in his own essay, and then in conversation, and Kertész's Améry-symposium address neatly ties up some of the concerns that are addressed elsewhere in this volume, and so The Holocaust as Culture makes a very fine small introduction to this very important author and his work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 June 2012

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The Holocaust as Culture: 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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© 2012-2013 the complete review

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