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Auto-da-Fé Paperback – December 1, 1984

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“In Auto-da-Fé no one is spared. Professor and furniture salesman, doctor, housekeeper, and thief all get it in the neck. The remoreseless quality of the comedy builds one of the most terrifying literary worlds of the century.” ―Salman Rushdie

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reissue edition (December 1, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374518793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374518790
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I sympathize with the people who wrote bad reviews: this is not a book for many, many people. If you value reading books that seem to take place in the same world that we live in, with plausible human beings who act in ways that make quick sense - stay away. If you prefer to avoid the grotesque, the violent, and the disturbing, this book is also probably not for you.
None of these things, however, have anything to do with whether a book is good or not. A few people have said that Canetti's prose is difficult to understand: that is nonsense. You are allowed not to like this book, but if you can't comprehend prose of such clarity, the problem is yours, not the author's. The book reads like a hallucination, but the lines of the image are sharp, like Kafka's.
Someone else wrote that the book is a glimpse into the mind of a psychotic: this is also not true. The world that the author describes may be insane, but the characters all live and think with a strange internal logic that is completely coherent with their environment. A character deciding to become immobile to fend off the corrupting presence of his wife seems, here, to be a perfectly appropriate response. In this world, it makes sense; in our world, it does not, and if you like reading books that breathe the same air as you, don't bother with Auta da Fe.
But if you can accept this world, which is at a very disturbing angle to our own, then you will live through a strangely purifying experience. I can't explain why it happens, but encountering the horrible and comic events of this book, the greed and blindness of the characters, leaves you better in some way: freer of ambition and stupid vanities. Read it: you'll see what I mean.
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Format: Paperback
The history of Canetti's odd, inventive novel provides clues to its understanding. According to his memoirs, Canetti originally conceived the "Human Comedy of Madmen," a fictional cycle portraying eight characters. Of these, only one character lived on in his imagination: Brand the Book Man. Inspired by Gogol, modeled after Stendhal's "The Red and the Black," and informed by Jacob Burckhardt's "History of Greek Civilization," Canetti's surviving portrait is an allegorical odyssey of a recluse who lives only for his books.

Yet those already familiar with "Auto da Fe" know that there is no character named Brand in the book. During the year (1930-31) that Canetti finished his novel, he changed the main character's name from Brand [German for conflagration] to Kant and the novel's title to "Kant Catches Fire." Canetti explains in the second volume of his memoirs that the lingering emotions he felt from his presence when a mob burned down Vienna's Palace of Justice in 1927 made this new title "hard to endure." And so "Kant became Kien [German for resinous pinewood]; the ignitability of the world, a threat that I felt, was maintained in the name of the chief character." Likewise, he changed the title to Die Blendung [The Blinding], a reference to the biblical legend of Samson. It was under this title that the book was published in 1935, but it was soon banned by the Nazis.

The main character is a leading Sinologist whose meticulous scholarship and linguistic expertise make him famous among an elite group, but Kien's lack of social skills ultimately defines him: he refuses to be part of the crowd (the dynamics of which is one of Canetti's real-life intellectual preoccupations).
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2 Comments 56 of 56 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I finished Auto Da Fe last night, and still can't decide whether it's the most nihilistic book I've ever read or one of the most humanistic. On one hand, Canetti treats his characters with unflinching (and, at times, comic, due to its extremity) brutality; they're all repugnant at best (lecherous murderers at worst), their desires are pitifully shallow, and, on the whole, they're painfully unintelligent. One might say that Canetti is the anti-Sherwood Anderson in this regard. Whereas the latter author strives to make the lives of his characters more significant through their "grotesqueness", the former uses said grotesqueness to render them less than human.
Despite all this, Canetti's humanism shines through due to the fact that Auto Da Fe is, ostensibly, a modern morality play. Human virtue would be rewarded, were there any to be found in the novel; as it stands, vice is clearly spelled out and its practitioners are punished. For instance, Canetti is obviously not suggesting that the reader should relate to or sympathize with the character of Peter Kein; he exists merely as an unfortunate example of intellectualism (and egoism) gone awry. At the same time, we shouldn't relish his downfall, but learn from it and apply its lesson (and the lessons of other characters) to our own lives. This is why it's hard for me to call Auto Da Fe nihilistic. While Canetti doesn't have much sympathy for fictional people, he seems to have boundless sympathy for the real ones which comprise his audience.
Also of note: earlier reviews have cited problems with the translation. This is absolutely not the case. Aside from a few errors here and there in grammar and tense, the novel reads very lucidly in English.
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