Sunday, 14 June 2009
Author: Imre Kertesz
Number of pages: 262
Started: 6 June 2009
Finished: 14 June 2009
I didn't go to school today. Or rather, I did go, but only to ask my class teacher's permission to take the day off. I also handed him the letter in which, referring to "family reasons," my father requested that I be excused. He asked what the "family reason" might be. I told him my father had been called up for labor service; after that he didn't raise a further peep against it.
Read the first chapter here or the entire book at Google Books.
Kertesz ( Kaddish for an Unborn Child ), who, as a youth, spent a year as a prisoner in Auschwitz, has crafted a superb, haunting novel that follows Gyorgy Koves, a 14-year old Hungarian Jew, during the year he is imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Fighting to retain his equilibrium when his world turns upside down, Gyorgy rationalizes that certain events are "probably natural" or "probably a mistake." Gradual starvation and what he experiences as grinding boredom become a way of life for him, yet Gyorgy describes both Buchenwald and its guards as "beautiful"; as he asks "who can judge what is possible or believable in a concentration camp?" Gyorgy also comes to a sense of himself as a Jew. At first, he experiences a strong distaste for the Jewish-looking prisoners; he doesn't know Hebrew (for talking to God) or Yiddish (for talking to other Jews). Fellow inmates even claim Gyorgy is "no Jew," and make him feel he isn't "entirely okay." Kertesz's spare, understated prose and the almost ironic perspective of Gyorgy, limited both by his youth and his inability to perceive the enormity of what he is caught up in, give the novel an intensity that will make it difficult to forget. One learns something of concentration camp life here, even while becoming convinced that one cannot understand that life at all--not the way Kertesz does.
What I thought:
This book was ok, but not one of my favourite reads of late. It didn’t really engage me and I found that I could read quite long passages and not remember a word of it. This book was semi-autobiographical, but I didn’t feel entirely convinced by it. I feel sort of bad for saying that, particularly given that it was about the Concentration Camps, but it just didn’t feel entirely authentic to me. There is also an irony in saying that given that part of what the book shows is people disbelief about what took place in the camps. I believe the things that happened, but somehow this book didn’t convince me of them.