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Kaddish for an Unborn Child Paperback – November 9, 2004
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When family friends become bitter enemies, the consequences are deadly. Learn More
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“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
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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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. I do find this style -- Kertesz's as well as Bernhard's -- tyrannical, in that the hyper-run-on sentences, with all their adverbial qualifiers and compulsive repetitiveness, deliberately require me not to "think back" at them, not to pause to respond or reflect, simply to plough on to the end, with sometimes no more than the barest hope of recalling and reassembling enough in my mind to be justified in claiming that I comprehend. You have to read such stylists on their terms, and their terms only, whether those terms are acceptable or not. You can quarrel with the author later, but he won't be there to listen.
The "Kaddish" is a synagogue prayer for the benefit of a recently deceased family member. Strictly speaking, Kertesz's Kaddish for an Unborn Child isn't a prayer at all. Eventually, as you read, you come to realize that it is an 'apology' addressed to Kertesz's own unborn child, that is, to the child he refused to bring into life. There is, of course, nobody to hear it, no child to resent or to be grateful for not being born. Much of the tension of Kertesz's non-narrative comes precisely from "looking backward", as he re-assesses the reasons he gave his ex-wife for refusing to father her child. The wife obviously doesn't have her own voice, as Kertesz would surely admit; her thoughts are only Kertesz's thoughts about what he thought she must have been thinking. Yes, that's the kind of book this is: utterly hermeneutic and self-referential.
Kertesz writes that "NO!" which he says he said, both to his wife and to the philosopher-acquaintance whose question about having children stimulates the meditation qua Kaddish, at the head of each subsection of the text. "NO!" is the refrain, the burden, the moral of Kertesz's Kaddish. It's the complexities of meaning in Kertesz's NO! that make the book worth reading. Because, of course, Kertesz IS an Auschwitz survivor, although there's very little description in this book of his death camp experiences, and therefore has some certified claim to authority on the subject of NO!, of evil. As he tells his unborn child that he must have told that child's would-have-been mother, "...what is truly irrational and genuinely inexplicable is not evil but, on the contrary, good." It may well be too simple an explication of Kertesz's moral outrage, but it seems to me that his NO! has to be taken as the most ready incidence of 'Good' in his world.