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Wednesday, December 29th, 2004



by Imre Kertesz

A Story of Hell, Told by a Teenager

A review by Anna Godbersen

The narrator of this brilliant Holocaust novel is, as we first meet him, a normal enough fourteen-year-old boy. The only child of a Hungarian Jewish businessman, he is sardonic, easily embarrassed by his parents, and eager for the adult world of work; we see him share his first kiss with Annamarie, who lives in the apartment down the hall. But then a very strange thing happens to him: He and all the other young men wearing yellow stars are taken from a Budapest bus, rounded up with others, and sent to Auschwitz. The experience that follows -- the narrator is taken to Buchenwald, and then to Zeitz (which he describes as "some kind of small, mediocre, out-of-the-way, so to say rural concentration camp") -- are related in the flat, ironic, but keenly observant voice of adolescence. He describes the system by which meals are doled out, the camaraderie between prisoners, and indeed what natural beauty he observes. He tells of horrors, too, of course -- extremes of thirst, hunger and worse -- but he maintains a bemused distance from them, as though the concentration camp reality could not possibly have been fated for him. The narrator's struggle is ultimately an existential one, as he seeks out something like the will to live and a way to understand his own experience.

Fatelessness, 2002 Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz's first novel, was originally published in 1975, and has now been republished in a new translation. It is a book strange and vivid, chilling and engrossing all at once.

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