This is an autobiographical interview by Kertesz of himself in which the interviewee-self disagrees with or rejects many of the interviewer's comments and questions. In the last line of the book, the interviewee provides what may be a sort-of key to the book: "I take delight in contradictions."
This is perhaps a useful perspective on the Nobel-Prize-winning author's point of view but is not very helpful to a reader seeking to understand the nature of literature, especially literature about the Holocaust. The first such contradiction is about the relationship between autobiography and fiction. In a sort of preface, Kertesz calls the book "a veritable autobiography," then says, "If one acknowledges Nietzsche's proposition that the prototype of the novel as an art form was to be found in the Platonic dialogues, then the Reader is in fact holding a novel in his or her hands." A few pages later, he writes, "A book is either autobiography or a novel. If it's autobiography you evoke the past, you try as scrupulously a possible to stick to your recollections. . . . A good autobiography is like a document: a mirror of the age on which people can 'depend.' In a novel, by contrast, it's not the facts that matter, but precisely what you add to the facts." Kertesz doesn't say, however, what he "add[s] to the facts" in his novels.
Elsewhere, he relates how problematical a tool memory is. In one place, the interviewer quotes from Kertesz's _Kaddish for an Unborn Child_, which the interviewee says is a novel. "The narrator is exaggerating. . . because [in the novel,] every figure of speech has to be distorted to fit [its] exaggeration. . . . art is nothing other than exaggeration and distortion." [A view earlier held by English novelist Thomas Hardy.]
Early in the book, the interviewee says he wouldn't draw a sharp distinction between reality and fiction. A few pages on he says that a scene from _Fatelessness_, his first novel, was "as true to life as could be, and yet it also served the novel's fictional structure superbly." Of another of his books, he says, "The series of events conforms to reality. . . . everything happened as I describe it. But that in itself already seems beyond the bounds of the credible. . . . That reality only becomes problematic if . . . you attempt to bring it out of the gloom: that is when you immediately realize its impossibility." For example, he had written about eiderdown individual beds in the infirmary at Buchenwald. He sought documentary proof for their existence and was unable to find it. But he had placed his bunkmate by name in the book, and after Kertesz received the Nobel Prize, a Polish gentleman by that name, having read the novel, came up to him excitedly. They spoke no common language but the bunkmate, he thinks, confirmed the eiderdown bunks.
"Truth is no longer universal--that's a grave fact, but it must be acknowledged," he writes. "It is simpler to. . . choose our own truth rather than the truth." That is pure postmodern doctrine. Later: "Truth belongs only to the dead, no one else," he writes about the holocaust. Then the interviewer quotes him, "Silence is truth. But a truth which is silent, and the ones who speak up will have right on their side," which the interviewer interprets as saying "the truth belongs to those who speak out." Then, the interviewee states, "I don't know what the truth is. I don't know whether it is my job to know what the truth is, in any case. Truth-telling artists generally prove to be bad artists. Anyone who is right generally proves not to be right. We need to have respect for man's fallibility and ignorance; there is nothing sorrier than a person who is right. . . ." Here he breaks off in mid-sentence and leaves the issue in a paradoxical state. Later, still: "I always doubt every sentence I utter, but I have never for a moment doubted that I have to write what I happen to be writing."
In short, it seems to me that it is very difficult to make much sense of these and other contradictory utterances. Perhaps Kertesz is suggesting that it is equally difficult to make sense of a reality that contains the Holocaust.