The Union Jack Paperback – Jan 19 2010
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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."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.