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Auto da Fé by Elias Canetti

Auto da Fé (1935)

by Elias Canetti

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
I managed 200 pages before admitting defeat.
This is an extremely strange work, and though I was intrigued by the storyline and the writing, by the time we start part 2 it's moving beyond strange to Kafkaesque.
Peter Kien is obsessed with his vast book collection and the pursuit of knowledge. An eminent sinologist, he eschews the world of academia and lives alone, poring over his tomes. His books are constantly dusted and even addressed as if they're people. The only person who shares his world is housekeeper Therese. Ugly, poor, money-hungry and small-minded, but Kien sees some imaginary quality in her - a carer for his books - and marries her.

I liked how Canetti brings her alive by describing her thoughts in the trite, repetitive, meaningless phrases that characterize her:

"If she sees anything she knows how to make use of it. She doesn't see many things. She hasn't ever been outside the town, She's not one for excursions, a waste of good money. You don't catch her going bathing, it's not respectable. She doesn't care for travelling, you never know where you are. If she didn't have to go shopping, she'd prefer to stay in all day. They all try to do you down. Prices going up all the time, things aren't the same any more."

But as married life becomes monstrous and Kien is forced to consort with a hunch-backed chess expert at a lowly hostelry, it all got a bit too surreal and I gave up... ( )
  starbox | Jun 15, 2017 |
This was Canetti's first novel and his best-known work. It was written around 1931, set in Vienna and with many references to the political violence of the late 20s, especially the burning of the Justizpalast in October 1927, which Canetti witnessed. However, it was obviously also strongly influenced by Canetti's stays in Weimar Republic Berlin. Canetti particularly mentions Grosz, Brecht and Isaac Babel as friends from his time in Berlin; in Vienna, the only writer who really grabbed his attention at this period was the satirist Karl Kraus.

Dr Peter Kien, leading the quiet, settled life of a bachelor bibliophile and amateur scholar of Asian languages, unwisely decides to prevent his reliable housekeeper Therese from leaving by marrying her, and as a result finds himself dragged down into a nightmareish low-life world that could have come straight out of Otto Dix or George Grosz. It's a savagely funny book, but also an incredibly bleak one, in which civilised, humanist values and selfish ambitions are trampled indiscriminately into the dirt by the brutish forces of human nature. The only person who seems to be able to pass through the global shitstorm unscathed is Kien's brother, a clinical psychiatrist who is so insulated from reality in his lunatic asylum that he never really perceives the full horror of what is going on around him.

When people finally started to take notice of this book, thirty or forty years after it was written, it's obvious why it caught their attention: Canetti's view of Europe in the early thirties leaves us in no doubt that there is something seriously bad on the way, and with hindsight we can only see it as prescient. But it seems to be more than a book about one particular historical mooment: despite the bleakness, despite the folly of both Kien brothers' attempts to escape from the world into their intellectual pursuits, Canetti is evidently writing from a humanist perspective - rather like Kafka, he wants to show us the importance of our values by showing us what happens when we lose them.

Worth reading, but a very emotionally draining book - especially for those of us who happen to own large libraries. Canetti meant it to be "merciless towards both the writer and the reader", and I think he achieved that... ( )
1 vote thorold | Nov 23, 2016 |
one as to remenber the book was written in 1935 in the time of "the beast"...As I understand it humans seems all mad, some less, some more, their relation and communication difficult if not impossible. Cannetti built a powerfull story, violent, where reason is in danger... ( )
  Gerardlionel | Apr 2, 2016 |
(Ceduto) Senza dubbio, scrivere un libro cosi' a neppure 30 anni è azione immortale. Ma che quello scritto abbia ora, a distanza di 80 anni dalla sua stesura, una qualche attinenza con gli interessi, le dinamiche, il senso dell'esperienza di questi tempi infami, è dire una falsità. I personaggi (almeno, fino a 1/3 del libro) sono puramente letterari, impossibili da figurarseli reali - a meno che non si stia parlando di una opera di Ionesco. Hans Castorp è vivo, Kien lo è solo su carta, e non è neppure molto interessante - per non dire di Therese, i cui deliri sono assai noiosi.Sia chiaro, non sarei in grado di scrivere una sola riga come l'ha scritta C. Pero' anche 500 e passa pagine di letteratura 'surrealista' dopo un po' stuccano. Magari migliora - anzi, senza dubbio.
Magari lo scoprirò tra qualche tempo. ***
PS: per non essere disprezzati, bisogna pero' dire che il libro è molto bello e profondo, assai complesso e altrettanto sottovalutato. Un capolavoro della letteratura tedesca, premonitore dell'autodistruzione della ragione occidentale. Inarrivabile.
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Basically the complete opposite of what I enjoy in a novel.
But then I haven't won a Nobel Prize for Literature, have I. ( )
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elias Canettiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hamelink, JacquesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wedgwood, C.V.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zagari, BiancaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zagari, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Veza
First words
‘What are you doing here, my little man?’
You draw closer to truth by shutting yourself off from mankind. Daily life is a superficial clatter of lies. Every passer-by is a liar.
No mind ever grew fat on a diet of novels. The pleasure which they occasionally offer is all too heavily paid for: they undermine the finest characters. They teach us to think ourselves into other men's places. Thus we acquire a taste for change. The personality becomes dissolved in pleasing figments of imagination. The reader learns to understand every point of view. Willingly he yields himself to the pursuit of other people's goals and loses sight of his own. Novels are so many wedges which the novelist, an actor with his pen, inserts into the closed personality of the reader. The better he calculates the size of the wedge and the strength of the resistance, so much the more completely does he crack open the personality of his victim.
Novels should be prohibited by the State.
Almost Kien was tempted to believe in happiness, that contemptible life-goal of illiterates.
Without corporal punishment no one ever got anywhere. The English are a tremendous people.
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First American edition was published as The Tower of Babel.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374518793, Paperback)

Auto-da-Fé, Elias Canetti's only work of fiction, is a staggering achievement that puts him squarely in the ranks of major European writers such as Robert Musil and Hermann Broch. It is the story of Peter Kien, a scholarly recluse who lives among and for his great library. The destruction of Kien through the instrument of the illiterate, brutish housekeeper he marries constitutes the plot of the book. The best writers of our time have been concerned with the horror of the modern world--one thinks of Kafka, to whom Canetti has often been compared. But Auto-de-Fé stands as a completely original, unforgettable treatment of the modern predicament.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:10 -0400)

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Peter Kien lives secluded in his library until he marries his housekeeper, who pushes him into the harshness of the outside world

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