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The Union Jack [Paperback]

Imre Kertesz , Tim Wilkinson

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Book Description

Jan. 19 2010 The Contemporary Art of the Novella
"It was...unnecessary for me to fret about who the murderer was: Everybody was."

A haunting, never-before-translated, autobiographical novella by the 2002 Nobel Prize winner.

An unnamed narrator recounts a simple anecdote, his sighting of the Union Jack—the British Flag—during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, in the few days preceding the uprising's brutal repression by the Soviet army. In the telling, partly a digressive meditation on "the absurd order of chance," he recalls his youthful self, and the epiphanies of his intellectual and spiritual awakening—an awakening to a kind of radical subjectivity. In his Nobel address Kertesz remembered:

"I, on a lovely spring day in 1955, suddenly came to the realization that there exists only one reality, and that is me, my own life, this fragile gift bestowed for an uncertain time, which had been seized, expropriated by alien forces, and circumscribed, marked up, branded—and which I had to take back from 'History', this dreadful Moloch, because it was mine and mine alone..."

The Contemporary Art of the Novella series is designed to highlight work by major authors from around the world. In most instances, as with Imre Kertész, it showcases work never before published; in others, books are reprised that should never have gone out of print. It is intended that the series feature many well-known authors and some exciting new discoveries. And as with the original series, The Art of the Novella, each book is a beautifully packaged and inexpensive volume meant to celebrate the form and its practitioners.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 76 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (Jan. 19 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633879
  • Product Dimensions: 18.1 x 17.4 x 0.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 91 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #598,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Praise for Imre Kertész

"...An enormous effort to understand and find a language for what the Holocaust says about the human condition."
—George Szirtes, Times Literary Supplement

"...Searching and visionary beyond the usual parameters."
—Sven Birkets, Bookforum

"In explaining something of the weight and importance of Kertesz's subjects and creative achievements, it is hard to convey simultaneously the deftness and vivacity of his writing....There is something quintessentially youthful and life-affirming in this writer's sensibility..."
—Ruth Scurr, The Nation

“Kertész's work is a profound meditation on the great and enduring themes of love, death and the problem of evil, although for Kertész, it's not evil that is the problem but good.”
—John Banville, author of The Sea

About the Author

Born in Budapest in 1929, Imre Kertész was imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1944, and then at Bunchenwald concentration camp. After the war and repatriation, the Soviet seizure of Hungary ended Kertesz's brief career as a journalist. He turned to translation, specializing in German language works, and later emigrated to Berlin. Kertesz was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002 for "writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Elliptical Testament Jan. 22 2010
By Roger Brunyate - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A minor work by a major author, this 1991 novella by Nobel Prizewinner Imre Kertész is very short, a mere 76 pages in small format. But its length is not the point. Its weight is the crushing burden of events to which Kertész bears witness. A Holocaust survivor as a Hungarian Jew (the subject of his first great novel FATELESSNESS), he returned to experience a longer and slower oppression in Hungary under Soviet rule. Written as an old man looking back at the one moment of light in those four decades of darkness, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, his subject is not those brief three weeks of hope but the thirty years of numbing repression that followed.

But it is an elliptical testament. The book is at once easy to read and difficult to penetrate. It is easy in that the flow of words, as translated by Tim Wilkinson, carries the reader in a kind of trance through its single unbroken paragraph, occasionally illuminated by brilliant images: "that one-time editorial office full of gloomy corridors, dusty crannies, tiny, cigarette-smoked rooms lit by bare bulbs, ringing telephones, yells, the quick-fire staccato of typewriters, full of fleeting excitements, abiding qualms, vacillating moods and, later, the fear, unvacillating and ever less vacillating, which seeped out from every cranny, as it were, to squat over everything." It is difficult, in that the whole book seems a never-ending prelude to a story that gets told only in a single paragraph towards the very end, and that a tiny peripheral event among many tremendous ones, the departure of the British Ambassador from Budapest in a jeep draped with a Union Jack. The text consists of layer upon layer of clauses and subclauses, shifting, postponing, displacing, parsing words into near-meaninglessness, distancing both writer and reader from events until existence is reduced to sterile formula. No atrocities, just a stultifying numbness. Even the apparent end of the nightmare leaves the writer stunned: "Living, I reflected, is done as a favour to God."

The Nobel Prize often seems to go to authors who have lived through times of political oppression, and who have created challenging literary means to deal with it: Nadine Gordimer (THE CONSERVATIONIST), Günter Grass (THE TIN DRUM), JM Coetzee (WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS), Orhan Pamuk (SNOW), and Herta Müller (THE LAND OF GREEN PLUMS) are only a few examples. Kertész is probably more challenging than any of them. In only somewhat lighter literature, I might also mention Kazuo Ishiguro's THE UNCONSOLED whose Eastern European alternative reality is validated by Kertész' picture of a true reality that is no less strange, and Milan Kundera, whose searing picture in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING of the similar 1968 revolution in Prague seems a feast of light by comparison.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and devastating May 18 2011
By Seth H. Rosenzweig - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed "The Union Jack," but be forewarned: If you're not familiar with 20th Century Hungarian history, particularly the 1956 revolution, this book will probably make no sense to you, and I'd say don't waste your money. But if you are familiar with the subject matter, this short book (it's only about 70 pages) is both poignant and devastating--definitely worth the read.

Kertész manages to write about difficult subjects--Hungary under the communists, the crushing of the 1956 uprising, and the abandonment by the West--in a way that is neither bitter nor angry.
4.0 out of 5 stars Dynamite comes in small packages Jan. 11 2014
By keetmom - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Imre Kertesz is a master of a minimalist writing style. In his very focused way he is able to convey layers of meaning without wasting any words. "The Union Jack" is a brief but rich account of one man's experience of the social and political challenges of life in communist Hungary. Writing in a stream of consciousness style, Kertesz unpacks the bitter realities of political oppression in a matter of fact, but profound way. The Union Jack flutters briefly from a passing diplomatic vehicle during the 1956 Uprising as a symbol of hope and freedom, before the darkness returns and people assume a shadow existence becoming other than themselves in order to survive.

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