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Fatelessness (1975)

by Imre Kertész

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Fatelessness (book 1)

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2,286706,989 (4.08)233
At the age of 14 Georg Koves is plucked from his home in a Jewish section of Budapest and without any particular malice, placed on a train to Auschwitz. He does not understand the reason for his fate. He doesn’t particularly think of himself as Jewish. And his fellow prisoners, who decry his lack of Yiddish, keep telling him, “You are no Jew.” In the lowest circle of the Holocaust, Georg remains an outsider. The genius of Imre Kertesz’s unblinking novel lies in its refusal to mitigate the strangeness of its events, not least of which is Georg’s dogmatic insistence on making sense of what he witnesses–or pretending that what he witnesses makes sense. Haunting, evocative, and all the more horrifying for its rigorous avoidance of sentiment, Fatelessness is a masterpiece in the traditions of Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Tadeusz Borowski.… (more)
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English (48)  Swedish (4)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  French (3)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Hungarian (1)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (70)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Review of Fatelessness
The Crux of it: I am Here
1942 - a French orderly gives out sugar cubes to French children every day in the Buchenwald concentration camp hospital. The main character György a Hungarian teenager, notices that the French speakers get two, while he only ever gets one. To György this behavior illustrates the advantage of learning a second.language.

This is typical György who is sent first to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald where he endures the horrors of the camps as we know them. He analyses events by rationalizing them in a matter of fact way, sans morality or resentment, his only emotion coming midway in the book when he starts to experience “irritability” and even then, never moral outrage.

The story is autobiographical and was written years after Kertész‘s imprisonment, when he was on the cusp of forgetting. Hence the many details of inmates’ facial structures and camp hierarchy uniforms. He’s putting it alll out there, in plain and simple terms; making it hard for the modern reader to understand the eerie detachment.

The story is told in chronological order, with the young boy unaware of what lies ahead as he passes from one horror to the next. Each event is told using backshadowing, with György taking and justifying each horror step by step without the knowledge of the modern reader. This of course is how the inmates experienced the ordeal, and reading it in this way has the efffect of making the experience more real. We are centered in György‘s life. But we can never fully accept the detachment shown in the justifications, the peak and most horrific being when Köves seems to “understand” the crematoria of Auschwitz,

I became used to György’s way of using reason to justify what happens to him without ethical considerations. But the question remains why? Is it that it’s a story told by a teenager? Or that the writer lacks Faith and is, being a non-practicing Jew, an outcast amongst outcasts? Or is it for effect? Or has the concept of morality been beaten out of him?

I prefer to think it’s an older person’s way of trying to remember what has of necessity been repressed. The writer is trying to remember, step by step, the events of his imprisonment, along with how he managed to cope with those events,as a young male thrust into the horror of the Holocaust without any adult experience or faith to guide him. Thus as with the sugar cube episode recounted in a matter-of-fact way, without rancor or moral overtone, I started to see into Kertész’s memory. ( )
  kjuliff | Dec 9, 2023 |
46. Fatelessness by Imre Kertész
translation: from Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson, 2004
OPD: 1975
format: 262-page Kindle ebook (side note: I started with a paperback I bought in SF in Nov 2022, but it turned out to be a bad copy.)
acquired: November 2022, then again August 15 read: Aug 13-22 time reading: 8:39, 2.0 mpp
rating: 5
genre/style: modern classics? theme: TBR
locations: Hungary & several concentration camps
about the author: Jewish Hungarian author and journalist from Budapest, a Holocaust survivor, and the 2002 Nobel Prize winner. (1929-2016)

I find Holocaust books tough to respond to, and tough to review, and this classic is no different. It's very powerful. It's semi-autobiographical in that it's the story of a 14-year-old Hungarian boy, Jewish only by lineage, who experiences and survives concentration camps, something the author experienced, and also it's all told in first person.

What sets this apart is the perspective. We never meet György Köves's parents, or anyone he's deeply connected to. He is emotionally distant. Unexperienced, but passionlessly curious, with an open logical mind. So, when finds himself and Auschwitz, he's not emotionally horrified so much as practical and scared in that way. He observes logically, within his understanding, even justifying various actions of guards in terms of what makes sense to him. There are bodies going up in smoke within his line of sight, bodies of people he just got off the train with, who have already been gassed, and he's focused on how people with valuables respond to requests by guards to give these up voluntarily, or by the way a newly shaven rabbi washes himself in showers (showerers that look the same as the gas chambers).

"At the very beginning, I still considered myself to be what I might call a sort of guest in captivity--very pardonably and, when it comes down to it, in full accordance with the propensity to delusion that we all share and which is thus, I suppose, ultimately part of human nature"


When he eventually returns home, and is questioned by what turns out to be a news or magazine writer, he answers questions saying, "naturally" this or that traumatic event. He is angry, but he is shaped by this experience, and embraces that impact on him, which is strange, especially in light of how grown up and mature he sounds at the end of the book.

What was weird for me, as a reader, is that I was never horrified while my mind was within the tone of the text. I was invested in György, like in the way I might be invested in a pretty good unprofessional challenger in America Ninja Warrior. I wanted him to succeed, to overcome. This kept me reading, and drew me back between chances to read. I was engaged. But I would need to pull myself out of the book, look around, so to speak, to grasp the context. That was very strange to me.

This is an important work. In my mind, it's up there with [Night], [If This is a Man], and [Maus], as a pillar towards understanding the Holocaust in a literary or artistic context. So highly recommended to those with this kind of interest. Personally I was drawn to this from other ClubRead comments and review (like from Labfs39, years ago), and also because part of being Jewish is to be drawn to this cultural heritage.

2023
https://www.librarything.com/topic/351556#8216664 ( )
  dchaikin | Aug 26, 2023 |
… non esiste assurdita’ che non possa essere vissuta con naturalezza e sul mio cammino, lo so fin d’ora, la felicita’ mi aspetta come una trappola inevitabile. (220)

Il racconto migliora dalla seconda meta’ in poi dove l’introspezione prevale al macigno della realta’ del campo.

In ogni caso avevo l’impressione di giacere cosi’ da molto tempo e me ne stavo semplicemente in pace, leggero, senza curiosita’, colmo di pazienza, nel punto dove mi avevano depositato. Non sentivo ne’ il freddo ne’ il dolore, e anche il fatto che una precipitazione pungente, di pioggia mista a neve, mi bagnasse la faccia, veniva recepito non tanto dalla mia pelle quanto piuttosto dal mio intelletto. (157)

Altri brani:
A un tratto non sapevo piu’ dove avevo la testa e ricordo soltanto che per tutto quel tempo mi veniva quasi da ridere, da un lato per lo stupore, l’imbarazzo e per l’impressione di trovarmi improvvisamente in una commedia dell’assurdo senza conoscere la parte che dovevo recitare… (51)

Sono venuto a sapere che e’ auspicabile imparare al piu’ presto a pronunciare in modo chiaro e comprensibile questo numero, cosi’: “Vier-und-sechzig, neun, ein-und-zwanzig”, perche’ d’ora in poi questa sarebbe sempre stata la mia risposta, ogni volta che qualcuno mi avesse chiesto chi fossi. (107)

… neppure i muri opprimenti di una prigione possono frenare il volo dell’immaginazione. (134)

… se esiste un destino, allora la liberta’ non e’ possibile; se pero’ … la liberta’ esiste, allora non esiste un destino, il che significa … che noi stessi siamo il destino… (218)
( )
  NewLibrary78 | Jul 22, 2023 |
It is impossible to imagine what the victims of the Holocaust had to go through at the hands of the Nazis. Language can only express so much. That is the central point in this account by the great Hungarian writer, Imre Kertesz - we cannot understand the concentration camps, and we cannot understand the testimony of the inmates. All we can do is listen. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Jul 7, 2022 |
A worthwhile book, and illuminating about the WWII concentration camp experience, but the writing (or at least the translation) isn't very graceful or compelling, and the story has a plain, straightforward arc. Glad I read it, but it didn't pull me through for the literary quality. ( )
  wordloversf | Aug 14, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
added by nagel175 | editNederlands Dagblad, Maurice Hoogendoorn (pay site) (Aug 23, 2019)
 

» Add other authors (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kertész, Imreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ertl, IstvanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Griffini, B.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kammer, HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klein, EvaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klein, GeorgForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ortman, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pošová, KateřinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilkinson, TimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
I didn’t go to school today.
Quotations
Yes, the next time I am asked, I ought to speak about that, the happiness of the concentration camps.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Canonical DDC/MDS
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

At the age of 14 Georg Koves is plucked from his home in a Jewish section of Budapest and without any particular malice, placed on a train to Auschwitz. He does not understand the reason for his fate. He doesn’t particularly think of himself as Jewish. And his fellow prisoners, who decry his lack of Yiddish, keep telling him, “You are no Jew.” In the lowest circle of the Holocaust, Georg remains an outsider. The genius of Imre Kertesz’s unblinking novel lies in its refusal to mitigate the strangeness of its events, not least of which is Georg’s dogmatic insistence on making sense of what he witnesses–or pretending that what he witnesses makes sense. Haunting, evocative, and all the more horrifying for its rigorous avoidance of sentiment, Fatelessness is a masterpiece in the traditions of Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Tadeusz Borowski.

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Book description
At the age of 14 Georg Koves is plucked from his home in a Jewish section of Budapest and without any particular malice, placed on a train to Auschwitz. He does not understand the reason for his fate. He doesn’t particularly think of himself as Jewish. And his fellow prisoners, who decry his lack of Yiddish, keep telling him, “You are no Jew.” In the lowest circle of the Holocaust, Georg remains an outsider.

The genius of Imre Kertesz’s unblinking novel lies in its refusal to mitigate the strangeness of its events, not least of which is Georg’s dogmatic insistence on making sense of what he witnesses–or pretending that what he witnesses makes sense. Haunting, evocative, and all the more horrifying for its rigorous avoidance of sentiment, Fatelessness is a masterpiece in the traditions of Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Tadeusz Borowski.
Haiku summary
Painting a "picture"
To see the real-life effects
When wrong-doers reign!

(Sinetrig)

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