Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index



to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Kertész Imre

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Fiasco

Title: Fiasco
Author: Kertész Imre
Genre: Novel
Written: 1988 (Eng. 20110
Length: 443 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: Fiasco - US
Fiasco - UK
Fiasco - Canada
Fiasco - India
Le refus - France
Fiasko - Deutschland
Fiasco - Italia
Fiasco - España
  • Hungarian title: A kudarc
  • Translated by Tim Wilkinson

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

A- : surprising, effective fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 12/10/1999 Eberhard Rathgeb
The Guardian A 2/6/2011 Nicholas Lezard
The LA Times . 14/6/2011 Thomas McGonigle
NZZ . 12/10/1999 Andreas Breitenstein
TLS . 9/9/2011 Balaji Ravichandran
Die Welt . 9/10/1999 H.-H. Müller
Die Zeit . (42/1999) Reinhard Baumgart

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "In diesem Buch dreht sich alles um die intellektuelle Figur der Wiederholung, also der lebensernsten Reflexion. Man muss diesen Roman nicht in allen Einzelheiten nacherzählen. Ein Pfahl geht durch seine Mitte. Es geht um ein Paradox, um das Schicksal der Schicksallosigkeit, um die Verzweiflung, sowohl ganz man selbst sein zu wollen, also die Schicksallosigkeit zu akzeptieren, als auch um die Verzweiflung, ganz man nicht selbst sein zu wollen, also das Schicksal anzunehmen." - Eberhard Rathgeb, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Not for nothing is Kertész particularly fond of Camus, and the metaphor of Sisyphus, which recurs with astonishing originality at the very end of the book. (...) This is funny, and funny on every page." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Although Fiasco is outwardly a little off-putting -- in Kertész's style, the reader encounters parenthesis upon parenthesis -- the writer also succinctly explains how he could write about his awful experiences as a child that he described in Fatelessness and still remain faithful to his 14-year-old self's search for adventure and beauty amid the horror of the concentration camps." - Thomas McGonigle, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Entstanden ist eine Mischung aus Prozess und Schloss, in deren locker aneinandergereihten Episoden sich die Dämonie des Realsozialismus verflüchtigt. Die autobiographischen Momente des ersten Teils erscheinen fast vollständig aufgelöst in stereotype kafkaeske Szenen (...) Fiasko ist kein Buch der Erlösung, wohl aber ein Antidot gegen Lösungen. Wer sich über der Lektüre selbst zum Rätsel geworden ist, hat durchaus richtig verstanden." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The central preoccupation of the work, however, is not so much the act of writing as how to write about the Holocaust and what writing should be like after it. (...) I suspect that the story of Kőves -- a straightforward third-person narrative full of metaphors for living under authoritarian rule, of constantly moving and shifting in the face of evolving rules and abstract regulations -- is itself of secondary interest, a story within a story to keep the critics and the average reader reading. Thus is born the second fiasco, since the narrative is successful only insofar as it embodies the authorial struggle, the struggle for the most apposite form of artistic expression, but fails because the story of Köves, while interesting on its own, is unoriginal in both content and structure." - Balaji Ravichandran, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Fiasko legt mit den Mitteln der Poetik der Moderne überzeugend Zeugnis ab von der Gefährdung und Größe jener bedrohten Spezies Individuum, deren Tod in diesem Jahrhundert immer wieder proklamiert, gefeiert und dementiert wurde." - Hans-Harald Müller, Die Welt

  • "Alles kehrt dort in Schleifen und Haken immer wieder manisch zurück zum ersten, so unwiederholbaren wie unvergesslichen Roman (.....) (E)ein kafkaeskes Projekt mit starken Camus-Einschüssen, das also die literarischen Helden seiner, und nicht nur seiner, fünfziger Jahre als Kunst-, Flucht- und Nothelfer einsetzt." - Reinhard Baumgart, 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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       A kudarc (now available in English, as Fiasco) is, in many ways, about the experience of writing and publishing Sorstalanság, Kertész's 1975 novel that was published in English as Fateless (and now Fatelessness). In Kertész's first novel he describes his own experiences in Auschwitz and after. The protagonist is Kertész's fictional alter ego, György Köves, and the same stony Köves is the focus of this novel.
       The first third of A kudarc describes an old man, recognizable as the author (indeed, specifically as the author of Fatelessness), for the most part lost in thought. He is a writer, but the experience of writing and publishing his first novel still weigh on him. He also earns money with translations, which also serves as an easy escape and excuse to keep him from writing fiction.
       There are distractions for the old man -- a demanding mother, his wife -- but ultimately what he is trying to avoid and yet inexorably drawn to is writing about the experiences he had in writing his first book.
       It was a novel he was compelled to write, not something written for any particular audience or for any reason other than to write it. It was not immediately accepted for publication, deemed inappropriate (a particularly troubling judgement for the author, who doesn't understand how it can be considered that), and was not any great sort of success once it did finally appear.
       The opening scene, in particular -- the old man standing lost in thought --, is drawn out, the setting and the thoughts repeated, like a musical theme that slowly grows, with more and more instruments brought in to allow for more small variations and a greater whole. The repetition of certain key images and phrases reminds of Thomas Bernhard, but Kertész's approach is a different one, embellished also by parenthetical (often within other parenthetical) asides. And the story grows, revealing his domestic circumstances, his publishing successes and failures (in particular the odd resonance his first novel failed to achieve), and more. There are fine details: the inadequate living space, or his wife's inability to clear her name in this political state (still-communist Hungary) because she was never charged with anything.
       (The repetition -- and the stony names and figures -- also remind constantly of Sisyphus, and A kudarc offers an interesting spin and new twist to the old myth.)
       In this opening section the author grapples again with material he feels compelled to form into a book. He returns to papers long hidden away, unable not to try to make some sense of that first experience of writing and publishing.
       The second part of the novel then is the fiction that results, and here there is a complete change of pace and tone and voice. It begins in Kafkaesque fashion: Köves arrives after a long flight, surely back in Budapest, but he finds himself in an only semi-recognizable reality. More significantly, he is not sure of himself, of who he is and what he does or where he lives. His first encounter is with bureaucracy, of the kind one finds at airports (or certainly did in Eastern Europe in communist times), with no clear answers (or, often, questions).
       Köves begins a new life here; he does not seem to have an old one. He is sent to an apartment where there is a room for him. He is fired from a job he didn't know he had (as a journalist). But he is, for the most part, satisfied to do as he is told (if anyone bothers to direct him somewhere), or else just live in the moment.
       Much of the senseless communist bureaucracy, and especially it's unpredictable power structure (where the boss who fired you one day is himself out on the street the next), is nicely related. Köves is mystified by it, but not bothered: he doesn't fight it, and accepts whatever happens as if often in a semi-trance state. He becomes a metalworker, and then is elevated to an important editor position (from which he is then also fired), and seems equally satisfied.
       Parts of his life also mirror that of the old author of the first section, but it is a refracted view and almost out of reach for Köves: in a way his story is about becoming that person. Writing is of significance -- not only to Köves but others he meets. He is an ear for others to lean on and ask advice, and yet hearing other tales lands him in some trouble.
       Eventually the compulsion to write, the need to write this one, specific novel comes to the fore. The novel closes with that being the only possibility for Köves (and, of course, for the novel's author).

       Presented in two neatly contrasting halves, A kudarc is a surprisingly effective work of fiction. There's a great deal of uncertainty about these main characters, but behind them Kertész's firm control over his material make for an impressive fiction. He conveys the odd life of communist Hungary with something far from any sort of socialist realism, and yet both narratives are firmly grounded and ultimately what is described is more tangible than in many supposedly realistic fictions.
       A neat turn on writing and publishing and life both with the burden of having survived Auschwitz and living in a communist state, A kudarc is a rich worthwhile fiction. Particularly appealing is Kertész resolute insistence on writing in the fashions he deems appropriate. The style -- seemingly off-hand, seemingly stuttering and sputtering as someone in the character's position might try to write -- is guided by a very strong hand, the author acutely aware of what he is doing.

- Return to top of the page -


Fiasco: Reviews: Kertesz Imre: Other books by Kertész Imre under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 2002-2013 the complete review

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