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Kaddish for an Unborn Child Paperback – November 9, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


“Condenses a lifetime into a story told in a single night . . . exhilarating for [its] creative energy.” —World Literature

“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 complete. upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.” --The Swedish Academy, awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature 2002

“Disturbing yet lyrical . . . a seamless burst of introspection that is painful in its intensity and despair.” --Library Journal (starred review)

“Stunning . . . resembles such other memorably declamatory fictions as Camus’ The Fall and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground.” —Kirkus Reviews

From the Inside Flap

The first word in this mesmerizing novel by the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is "No." It is how the novel's narrator, a middle-aged Hungarian-Jewish writer, answers an acquaintance who asks him if he has a child. It is the answer he gave his wife (now ex-wife) years earlier when she told him that she wanted one. The loss, longing and regret that haunt the years between those two "no"s give rise to one of the most eloquent meditations ever written on the Holocaust.

As Kertesz's narrator addresses the child he couldn't bear to bring into the world he ushers readers into the labyrinth of his consciousness, dramatizing the paradoxes attendant on surviving the catastrophe of Auschwitz. Kaddish for the Unborn Child is a work of staggering power, lit by flashes of perverse wit and fueled by the energy of its wholly original voice.
Translated by Tim Wilkinson


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 132 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078628
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078622
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,205 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

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By E. Borvendeg on October 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
Anyone who reads the poor first translation of Fateless and the shamefully bad translation of Kaddish cannot even get close to the true spirit of the original works.

Thanks to Tim Wilkinson English speakers can finally enjoy these excellent books.

Look for the titles "Fatelessness" and "Kaddish for an Unborn Child", both translated by Wilkinson. These new editions are at last worthy of the originals and the Nobel Prize.

(See also October 16, 2002 review by Marton Sass)

A movie based on the novel Fateless is also out with English subtitles; don't miss it, if you have a chance. Beautiful work.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Sil on July 19, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a childless, second-generation descendant of Polish Jews who barely made it out of Europe in time to escape the gas chambers, I had heard that certain "psychological symptoms" of Holocaust survivors often appeared in later generations. I didn't know what this meant until I read Kaddish for an Unborn Child.

Kertesz puts in writing emotions and beliefs that I had never been able to articulate or make sense of, but which I recognized as a big part of who I am.

This book is not easy to read, but it's worth the effort and the tears.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gio on December 29, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Imre Kertesz makes no effort to test that premise, that it's impossible to write about happiness, in this dense and dark little book. Writing, he declares often enough, is his necessary act to stay alive long enough to die: "...for my ballpoint pen is my spade," he repeats several times, "and if I look ahead, it is solely to look backwards." Don't suppose, dear reader, that this is another 'life-affirming' memoir by another Shoah survivor. Kertesz's only affirmation is of the necessity of understanding one's life as long as one is stuck with it. "One's religious duty," he writes, "totally independently of the crippling religions of the crippling churches, is therefore understanding the world; yes, that when all is said and done, it is in this, in understanding the world and my situation, and in this alone, that I may seek ... my salvation." Oh, the likelihood of any such salvation is slim indeed, according to Kertesz, but "we must at least have the will to fail."

That last quotation is second-hand; Kertesz quotes it from a book by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. If you know Bernhard's work, you'll recognize the influence it must have had on Imre Kertesz. At least in this volume, their styles are nearly identical: the same endlessly extended and qualified sentences, the same throbbing repetitions, the same parenthetical avoidance of any chronological narrative. If you don't like Bernhard at all, you'll probably hate Kertesz. On the other hand, if you can handle Bernhard's tyrannical mannerisms, you may well find Kertesz blessedly accessible and affective, though every bit as difficult.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By I. Jaime on December 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
Let me start off by saying that this book is quite difficult to read and to follow. First, there isn't that much material on the internet to help you follow this book (e.g. cliff's notes, reports, etc.). Second of all, the vocabulary can be very daunting to comprehend and definitly requires a dictionary by your side if you want to follow the story in its entirety. I am certainly not the most educated fellow in the country, but I do at least have a bachelor's degree from a major state university, and I still found this book to be quite difficult to read.

Now, let me address WHY on earth you may be interested in reading this book. For me, there were two major aspects. First, I am very interested in the WWII period and the Holocaust specifically. I try to read any book about WWII, or the Holocaust, as well as watch any movie that may come out on the subject. This book not only provides some background information on the author's life during the Holocaust but also what those experiences did to his future. Secondly, "Kaddish..." has won many awards and can be found on many lists of "must-read" books that may change your life/beliefs.

"No!" That is how the narrator/primary character in the book begins his story. What follows this first word is a barrage of information, personal stories, theories, philosophies, etc. The narrator brings the reader along in a very tumultous journey into his past, present and future in a non-sequential order. We learn about the narrator's experiences as a child and how his experiences at a boarding school after his parents' divorce greatly affected his views of the world and humanity as a whole. Later, we learn what happened to the narrator while he was imprisoned in the Nazi extermination camps.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J.D. Hunley on March 10, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Imre Kertesz won the Nobel Prize. Having survived the Holocaust, he has original observations about it, but this book is repetitive, mostly uninteresting, and disappointing. Kertesz perhaps pursues the ineffable a bit too far, leaving his meaning excessively elusive. There is little plot, little detail. It opens with the word, "No," that, as gradually becomes clear, is a rejection of the idea of bearing a child, apparently because the world is such a forbidding place. The narrator relates scenes from his childhood that seem horrible enough but certainly not on the scale of Auschwitz. "Later on, Auschwitz, I said to my wife, seemed to me to be just an exaggeration of the very virtues to which I have been educated since early childhood. Yes, childhood and education were the start of that inexcusable process of breaking me, the survival that I never survived, I said to my wife." This and other such observations are, as I say, original, but I am uncertain of their profundity.
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