Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Fateless by Imre Kertesz (winner 2002)

My first selection from an author I'd never even heard of pre-Nobel project. Imre Kertesz, for the reference of any others new to his oeuvre, is (was?) a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. Question: was it merely the scale of the Holocaust which has resulted in an outpouring of so much survivor-literature? Or is it the traditional association between Jews and literariness/scholarship ('people of the Book') etc.? Or is it that world interest in the Holocaust is such that those with stories to tell have been pushed to tell them?

Anyway, Fateless (now a film if anyone's interested) is the tale of a young boy in various concentration camps. It seems to be heavily autobiographical, although I say that with no knowledge of Kertesz's life other than the information above. Perhaps what gives it a strongly autobiographical flavour - other than the fact that it probably is largely autobiographical... - is its very direct, matter-of-fact narrative style. The naivety of the narrator - a 14 (?) year old boy - seems incredible, but it works. His lack of awareness of all that the camps mean almost convince us, as readers, that we are also unaware of the significance of being sent to Auschwitz. Kertesz manages to guide us into a deeper understanding of unfolding events even as they become clear to the narrator.

In a way, it reminded me of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, in that the horror of the situation isn't dwelt upon in either work. However, the final message of the book is quite different. I don't really want to go into the ending and spoil it for anyone who may read it - not that there's a twist or anything (he was dead all along!) but you should read it for yourself.

I think I have lost all my powers of literary analysis, by the by...


Alice said...

Why didn't I read this post and quiz you about it BEFORE my concentration camp essay was due in?!....which is in 40 minutes..... doh! xx Liss

Gwan said...

Alice! Better yet, you could have quizzed me on actually having gone to Auschwitz. Good luck!