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Auto-da-Fé Paperback – December 1, 1984
Four girls on a trip to Paris suddenly find themselves in a high-stakes game of Truth or Dare that spirals out of control. Learn More
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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.
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).Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Auto-Da Fé is a novel of physically grotesque and sometimes humorous characters obsessed and tormented with consuming addictions, self-deceptions, and hatreds. Read morePublished 8 months ago by George Beam
The handling of language is magnificent but the story, with all due respect, seemed to me a bit too simplistic and a bit pathetic. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Jose P. Marquina Almela
Auto-da-Fe is a great book and should be read by anyone interested in the best literature. But this paperback is printed by the publisher with a messy ink pen, which makes it very... Read morePublished on April 9, 2014 by Juan Malo
Far inferior to his autobiographical memoir, this work of fiction is a profound disappointment. Its characters are highly unsympathetic, claustrophobic and rather uninteresting --... Read morePublished on December 27, 2013 by Avid Reader
I read this book years ago, but I was able to appreciate its level of sophistication only now. Canetti's power of observation and his mastery of language is delightful, reminding... Read morePublished on June 27, 2013 by Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska
The story is consitent, well written, it draws a reader to follow the caracters, none of them pleasant but intriguing. Read morePublished on February 1, 2013 by stan florek
Modern society needs a clear picture of the four corners of the box in which human engineering by social regimentation is sorting everything. Read morePublished on October 26, 2011 by snap shot hex
I began reading Auto-da-Fe at least a decade ago. I haven't finished it, and that is because I don't want to finish it. The reading gives me far too much enjoyment. Read morePublished on September 16, 2011 by N. pearson
Make no mistake, this is a very complex book. Maybe one of the more complicated and elusive ones I have read.
On the surface it seems simple enough. Read more