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Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertész

Kaddish for an Unborn Child (1990)

by Imre Kertész

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Fatelessness (book 3)

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5941426,353 (3.8)55
A Jew's lament to explain why he has not fathered a child: after the Holocaust it is impossible for a Jew to have a normal life. But as his lament continues it becomes clear the roots of his nihilism lie in his childhood. By a Hungarian writer, author of Fateless.



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» See also 55 mentions

English (10)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This piercing unbroken paragraph novella ups the emotional and philosophical ante concerning the Shoah and leaves only scorched earth and tattered memories in its wake. Throughout the work there a number of nods to Bernhard, whereas Kertesz further gilds the homage to the Austrian with trademark recurrences and stilted rhythms. These circumstances extend beyond, of course. The decision reached is also an imperative, one which still bears considerable weight. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |

The back of the book describes it as 'one of the most eloquent meditations ever written on the Holocaust.' To associate the Hungarian Kertész with the Shoah is, of course, inevitable, considering that as a teenager he survived life in Auschwitz. However, to place The Holocaust as a monolith in the foreground when describing Kertész's writing is misleading. Some critics of Kertész's novel Fatelessness (or Fateless, depending on the translation) complained that it was boring, and not what they expected of a book describing life in a series of concentration camps. Yet Kertész was doing just that, as part of his efforts to show how in the camps that life went on and because life went on, that even in a concentration camp one could be bored. With Fatelessness, Kertész tried to bring the Shoah within the realm of understanding of the reader who did not live through it. It would make sense that some readers would be uncomfortable with that or even confused by such an approach, for many of us were conditioned from a young age to have a certain type of reaction to The Holocaust as an idea, a concept, something terrible in the past that we cannot adequately conceive of from where we sit now in history.

At one point in this book, when someone at a party brings up a quote, 'There is no explanation for Auschwitz', from a recent book and everyone at the party solemnly accepts this, Kertész's narrator launches on a tirade, for to him, when looking at the world and the people in power, Auschwitz has a perfectly logical explanation. Later, he tells his (ex-)wife that 'Auschwitz seemed to me to be just an exaggeration of the very same virtues to which I had been educated since early childhood' and certainly that he didn't need to be at Auschwitz to 'learn about this age and this world'.

It is this insistence on treating the Shoah as something comprehensible that marks Kertész's work in such a powerful way. While it may always be in the shadows of his writing, and thus his reputation as a writer, it is never the focal point, and instead this placement beyond the reader's constant roving eye broadens the significance of his work. Once the Shoah is fixed as reality in the continuum of humanity's capabilities, and indeed accepted as a comprehensible outcome of the course that humanity marches forth on, the dynamics and directions of conversation shift away from the light to confront the darkness head on. (In fact, Kertész has criticized the film 'Schindler's List' for avoiding just this type of conversation.)

Readers of Thomas Bernhard will likely find a similarity in style here, as Kertész also strings together long, circuitous sentences bursting with digression, repetition, and rephrasing wielded as a hammer to drive home his nail-hard points. He even quotes Bernhard in a few places within the text (Kertész has translated Bernhard). There is in fact a Bernhardian sense permeating the book as a whole. A kinship between these two writers would make sense, for they both survived horrible childhood experiences (WWII, boarding school, parent issues, and for Bernhard, lung disease), both of them in turn struck by the absurdity of their own survival while also accepting it as the impetus for their work, both of them wedded to this work, to writing, unyielding in their need to write. And finally, both of them indignant at the unwillingness of people to confront and engage with the reality of humanity's darkness, for it is this indignance juxtaposed with their own willingness to engage with this darkness, and indeed accept it as a natural outcome, that is at the crux of both writers' work.

The book is short, though deceptively so. It was not instantly engaging, requiring some adjustment in the reading mind, but once in focus, it felt like a home, like Kertész's austere city apartment to be exact. Kertész touches on a lot of themes, and one of the most compelling threads is his narrator's ongoing description of his writing life, what feeds it and what stifles it, how it affects and is affected by his relationships, how it is representative of his identity and, as such, something to be protected 'from all intruders', how his work saved him, though saved him only for destruction.

During those years I dreamed I also became aware of the true nature of my work, which in essence is nothing other than to dig, dig further and to the end, the grave that others started to dig for me in the clouds, the winds, the nothingness.

Note: Merits of the translations of Kertész's earlier novels, including this one and Fatelessness, are a subject of ongoing debate. Both of these books were first translated by Christopher and Katharina Wilson and later by Tim Wilkinson. For this book I read the Wilkinson, and for Fatelessness I had read the Wilson translation. I didn't find serious issue with either book's translation, so won't comment on that, but this review provides some interesting commentary. Additional information can be found online easily enough. (For what it's worth, Kertész objected to the earlier Wilson translations, though not sure if he's commented publicly on the comparative merits of Wilkinson's work, which itself has also drawn criticism.) ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
Kertész se recusa a ter filhos após Auschwitz - não só porque não pode prometer ao seu filho hipotético que ele não passará pelo mesmo sofrimento, não só porque um mundo em que existiu Auschwitz não é um mundo que valha a pena. Kertész não quer ser a autoridade suprema, o Auschwitz de alguém.
Muito interessante, bem argumentado e bem escrito. Quero ler mais livros desse autor. ( )
  JuliaBoechat | Mar 30, 2013 |
. . . uhh . . . didn't get this one at all. it was just a middle aged writer who is expounding upon why he is the way he is, why he made the choices he made. merging the past with the present in a sordid, muddled, anti-prose. written in journal form, very free flowing thought, almost like how someone would think. it just didn't work for me. i didn't care about him, one way or another. no feelings of pity, or anger, or agreement, or anything. and that twenty page paragraph was completely unnecessary. there were so many places that it could have been broken up. i understand that this is the point, i just didn't like the point.

the only redeeming sentence in the whole thing "i have always had a secret life and that has always been the real one." i think we all feel the full weight of these words from time to time. problem is i still feel like he is hiding his real self. more self delusion perhaps.
  Rocky_Wing | Aug 3, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Da Politiken i februar 2005 spurgte lyrikeren og bachelor i litteraturvidenskab Adda Djørup om hvad der har været hendes største læseoplevelse det sidste år, svarede hun: "Kaddish for et ufødt barn af Imre Kertész. Den er blændende godt skrevet - hjertegribende og knivskarp. Som jeg læser den, er den et klartseende blik på den vestlige kultur og dennes iboende tendens til totalitær tænkning og voldelig - for ikke at sige moderisk - adfærd. Og den er skrevet af et menneske, der selv har oplevet dette i yderste konsekvens. Men samtidig peger den på det godes mysterium; på det forhold, at selv i de hæsligste og mest livstruende omstændigheder kan mennesket udføre helt uselviske handlinger. den gav mig på samme tid en kugle og et lys i hjertet.
added by 2810michael | editPolitiken, Adda Djørup
Ungareren Imre Kertész er i den europæiske superliga for ordkunstnere. Hans uhyggelige værk om KZ-lejrens virkelighed sætter overbevisende de største spørgsmål i spil.
Litterært er der tale om en triumf: Kunsten får hos Celan som hos Kertész orkestreret grusomheden. Ordene graver graven i vinden, så læseren kan stå og meditere ved den og måske blive klogere.
Men det er samtidig en bittert uafgjort triumf: Hvad er det dog med dén kunst, at den mest monumentale grusomhed lader sig transponere til noget, der i sidste ende er smukt? Hvordan kan litteratur være et rungende nej til livet og fremtiden og samtidig fremstå livsbekræftende i sin trods?
Kertész er ungarer og jøde, kan man læse i Peter Nielsens gode efterskrift. Han har selv levet igennem først nazisternes dødslejre, så kommunisternes diktaturer, så han ved nok, hvad han skriver om. Bønnen over det ufødte barn viser ham også som en forfatter i den europæiske superliga for ordkunstnere.
Han er - uden sammenligning i øvrigt - æstetisk avanceret og genreoverskridende knivskarp lidt på samme måde som de unge danske prosaister, som en del ældre danske kritikere er så vrede på.
Men samtidig har hans frygtelige og musikalske kværn solidt fat i de store spørgsmål, som vi er nødt til at blive ved at stille. Formentlig kan disse spørgsmål netop kun holdes åbne ved, at folk som Kertész sætter dem på spil i kunstens form
added by 2810michael | editJyllands-Posten, Jon Helt Harder
IMRE Kertész’ egen skæbne ligner på mange måder den fortællers, som han har skudt ind mellem sig selv og teksten. Som overlevende fra nazismens dødslejre levede han siden hen i fyrre år i et diktatur, det såkaldte folkedemokrati i Ungarn, der hvad ensretning og undertrykkelse angik, ikke gav nazismen meget efter, og var det meste af tiden ramt af udgivelsesforbud. Det får ham i hele hans forfatterskab, som Peter Nielsen i en efterskrift giver et kyndigt omrids af, til at kredse om forholdet mellem skæbne og frihed, hvor friheden består i hele tiden at konfrontere sig selv med skæbnen i stedet for at lægge en skæbne, dødslejrens, som man ikke selv har valgt, bag sig og derved virkelig holde op med at eksistere.
Det er desuden i forståelsen af verden og sin egen placering i den, at der kan ligge en redning, som intet har med religion at gøre, hvad denne kompakte og arabeskagtige tekst trods sit grufulde udgangspunkt bekræfter, uden at der af den grund er nogen opløftelse at hente. Men den eksistentielle udsathed, som Imre Kertész skriver på, giver læseren en erkendelse, ingen bør være foruden i en tid, hvor det igen viser sig, at antisemitismen »ikke er nogen overbevisning, men fortvivlelsens moral, de selvhadendes vanvid, de døendes vitalitet,« der atter vejrer morgenluft. Jeg vil holde på, at Kaddish for et ufødt barn er den væsentligste bog, der er udkommet på dansk i flere år.
added by 2810michael | editWeekendavisen, Lars Bonnevie

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kertész, Imreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kammer, HenryTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sciglitano, M. R.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gálová, DanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kammer, HenryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenberg, ErvinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwamm, KristinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilkinson, TimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zaremba, CharlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zaremba-Huzsvai, NataliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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