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Fatelessness Paperback – December 7, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Remarkable . . .an original and chilling quality, surpassed only by Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz” --The New York Review of Books

“In his writing Imre Kertesz explores the possibility of continuing to live and think as an individual in an era in which the subjection of human beings to social forces has become increasingly completeÉ. upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.” --The Swedish Academy, The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002

“[S]hould be savored slowly . . . Only through exploring its subtlety and detail will the reader come to appreciate such an ornate and honest testimony to the human spirit.” —The Washington Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078636
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078639
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

IMRE KERTÉSZ was born in Budapest in 1929. At age fifteen he was deported to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald, and finally to a subcamp at Zeitz, to labor in a factory where Nazi scientists were trying to convert coal into motor fuel. Upon liberation in 1945 he worked as a journalist before being fired for not adhering to the Communist party doctrine. After a brief service in the Hungarian Army, he devoted himself to writing, although as a dissident he was forced to live under Spartan circumstances. Nonetheless he stayed in Hungary after the failed 1956 uprising, continuing to write plays and fiction in near-anonymity and supporting himself by translating from the German writers such as Joseph Roth, Freud, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein. He remained little-known until 1975, when he published his first book, Fatelesseness, a novel about a teenage boy sent to a concentration camp. It became the first book of a trilogy that eventually included The Failure and Kaddish for an Unborn Child. Subsequent titles include Liquidation, The Pathseeker, Union Jack, and, a memoir, The File on K. In 2002, Kertész was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He lives in Budapest and Berlin.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 143 people found the following review helpful By Manuel Haas on August 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is the most shocking book about the Holocaust I know. What makes the book so unique is the narrator, a 15-year-old Hungarian Jew whose language reminded me of Salinger in the beginning. The perspective of this naive boy allows Kertesz to describe the narrator's and his father's deportation without any idea of what's going to happen next. - Kertesz experienced much of this in his own life, and yet he had enormous trouble getting the book published. It was regarded as a scandal that the hero says that even in the concentration camps he experienced moments of happiness. This does not mean, however, that Kertesz makes it appear to be fairly harmless in the manner of "Life is Beautiful". No, his perspective, which is free from any hindsight makes us see the Shoa in all its horror for the first time.
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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Lonya VINE VOICE on January 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Who every day must conquer them anew.

These words of Goethe provide the emotional context within which I experienced Imre Kertész' masterful novel Fateless.

Kertesz was an assimilated Hungarian-Jew living in relative comfort in Budapest. In the summer of 1944 he was picked up and shipped to Auschwitz. He was fourteen years old. He was transferred from Auschwitz to Buchenwald, from Buchenwald to Zeitz (a lesser-known concentration camp) and then back to Buchenwald. He was liberated a year later and returned to Budapest.

The life of György (George) Köves, the protagonist of Fateless, tracks the experiences of Kertesz. The novel is written in George's voice and we see the world through his recollection of events. (Kertesz has indicated in interviews that although Fateless takes the form of an autobiographical novel it is not an autobiography but a work of fiction.) George is a relatively care free, naive 14 year old leading a middle class life with his family. As the story opens, the family is preparing to say goodbye to George's father who is being sent to a labor camp. I was struck immediately by George's detachment as these early events unfold. George obtains a job at a factory. This provides him with a pass out of his neighborhood although he is still required to wear a yellow star identifying him as Jewish. One morning, on the way to work, he is swept up along with thousands of others and is sent on his journey into the seven layers of hell known as concentration camps. The rest of novel details George's experiences in the camps, his gradual physical deterioration that leaves him near death, the chain of events that kept him alive, his liberation and his eventual return to Budapest.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Marcell Orosz on October 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
This year's Nobel prize winner Imre Kertesz's book about the Holocaust is one of the most powerful and touching books ever writen about this theme. Kertesz was a surprise Nobel-prize winner but after reading this book you'll probably see it was a well-earned prize for a very talented and gifted writer.
At the time the story is going on, it is 1944 and a Jewish boy is departed to a Nazi concentration camp along with his father. The book gives a different perspective of the horror, because it is written in an "I" form. As a reviewer mentioned before, this is not a "Life Is Beautiful" story. This is a "Life Is Horrible" story and it is a shocking experience you will never forget. Though the book is not about the writer himself, Kertesz experienced much of the story.
The book is never boring and makes you going on with the things to come - most of them unexpected and even more horrible than the ones before. Imre Kertesz survived this mayhem and he is the living proof of fate, even though this book's title is Fateless. It could only be fate that saved him and the survivors of the darkest times of the 20th century.
The only shame: he is not well known in his home country. Many Hungarian writers say: Hungary is a "language island" with a language barrier that can't be put down. I hope Kertesz's success shows every writer in the world that language can't be a barrier. Good stories make a writer. And if they're true - as this is case with Fateless - they can make very good writers. I recommend this book everyone with a heart and soul.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Chuck J. Johnson on January 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
I admit to knowing nothing about this book until reading that Kertesz won the Nobel prize for writing it. I am probably one of the least informed people to read this book, and just having finished an MBA curriculum, I wanted to read something that actually looked interesting. Before I began this book, about all I knew about it was that it was a first-hand accounting of the Holocaust. I really didn't know what to expect, but once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. Fatelss is the fascinating story of a 15 year old Hungarian Jewish boy's journey through the Nazi concentration camps. It is told in the first person, and Kertesz makes the most mundane detail seem vivid and worthy of all the reader's thought and attention.
The story is told through the eyes of a 15 year old. He enters the camps not knowing what to expect, and he has no idea that an organized extermination is taking place. He never seems to take too much personally, but instead simply treats each new situation as something to be dealt with and survived. His journey through the camps becomes part of his childhood that he does not want to forget, because doing so would mean forgetting part of his life. It is as if he is thinking that other people get to remember their childhoods, so why can't I.
After returning from the camps after being liberated, Kertesz recalls a conversation with a relative who keeps talking about 'the fate of the Jews'. I think this conversation is the main point of the book. Kertesz feels that if fate is a reality, then life is not worth living, because of the implied predetermination. Kertesz rejects any notion of 'fate', preferring to live each day, even in the camps, as though tomorrow will bring a new day to be lived.
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