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Kaddish for an Unborn Child (Vintage International) [Hardcover]

Imre Kertesz , Tim Wilkinson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug 2004 Vintage International
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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: San Val (Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1417725133
  • ISBN-13: 978-1417725137
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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"Condenses a lifetime into a story told in a single night...exhilarating for [its] creative energy" (World Literature)

"Stunning... resembles such other memorably declamatory fictions as Camus' The Fall and Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground" (Kirkus Reviews)

"While the average reader cannot pretend truly to understand the reality of those who suffered in concentration camps, Kertész draws us one step closer" (Observer)

"For taking us somewhere no other writer has, Kertész fully deserved his Nobel Prize" (Independent)

"Tim Wilkinson is a seriously good translator...I may have given the impression that this is harrowing, and it is; but it has its moments of great, consoling insight, is about far more than just the Holocaust and in its own haunting way provides comfort for the afflicted" (Nicholas Lezard Guardian) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A moving, mesmerising novel about the dilemma involved in bringing a child into a world in which the evil to create Auschwitz exists. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is destruction 11 Oct 2005
This book is a long lament and defence of the author why he didn't become a father.
First, there is the incurable Auschwitz illness - I.K. was imprisoned there at the age of fifteen. But for him, Auschwitz, was the emanation of a bigger system, that he calls totalitarianism. From his childhood on, his family and the people around him began destroying him through their education and religion - the 'virtues' of his youth: God as an almighty father revealed himself in the image of Auschwitz.
For the author, surviving in this system was already supporting it. But why did he continue to live in it: to write - 'My pencil is my shovel'.
With its powerful flowing elliptic style this book is written like a musical symphony. A masterpiece.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The result of memories of buchenwold 13 Jan 2008
It was not Auswicz that he was to spend the most part of his imprisonment, but in Buchenwold. In fact, had he remained in auswicz, it is almost certain he would not have survived. It is to our betterment that he did live to tell his tale, one which has been told before so many times, but essential for those people who believe the holocaust and the massacre of so many Jews and other people who were undesirable to the ide of a master race.
It must also be noted that evenm had he not been ingrained in his religion (and you must not forget that for many Jews, especially then but also now in Orthodox communities, it isn't simply a question of a religion which one chooses to follow, but a traditional way of life in which the judaism is intrinsic. Even so, the German invaders were not concerned with the religion as a choice, but as a 'race', they believed that the Jews were a dirty, inferior race of less-than-humans, so whether people were practising their religion or not made no difference to the Germans. Eastern european Jews have a quite distinctive appearance and this is quite dominant genetically. Maybe the determination and strength is a genetic trait too? It is these traits that people are afraid of and that is what makes the Jews, even today, often scapegoats. (Remember the conspiracy theory about the Twin towers on 9/11, for example)
The book itself, "Kaddish..." definitely justified (if justification were needed in this time of overpopulation) his reasons for not wishing to father a child, and his eloquence is something one rarely sees in literature these days.
The fact his books all have this huge impact that his imprisonment had on the rest of his life made glarngly obvious is reminiscent of J.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attention: Only read the new translation by Tim Wilkinson 14 Oct 2005
By E. Borvendeg - Published on Amazon.com
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.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to read, but a growth experience 19 July 2006
By Sil - Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Happiness is too simple to write about..." 29 Dec 2009
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guranteed to make you question your beliefs 23 Dec 2007
By I. Jaime - Published on Amazon.com
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. The narrator centers much of his views and arguments on one experience that he had while in a concentration camp with a fellow whom he just calls "Teacher." This fellow was able to perform an act of kindness under the most awful and degrading conditions and our narrator is both baffled and even distrusting of this act of kindness. This act sets his mind into motion as he tries to understand how a human being can both be exterminating people in concentration camps and at the same time another human being has the capacity to think of someone other than himself under the most trying circumstances.

Later, the narrator lets us know why and how his marriage failed. He reveals what his ex-wife told him before she left him, which to me was the climax of the story. In the end, we see the narrator pondering his existence as it relates to the child that he refused to bring into the world, because he couldn't bear the thought of bringing an innocent child into such a monstrous, brutish world.

I don't want to give any more of the story away, but I do want to encourage everyone to read this book. The ideas and philosophies brought out in the book are enough to propel even the biggest optimist into uncertainty about their beliefs. In the end, you will make a decision for yourself on whether the author is right in his view of the evil that is humanity, or whether you agree with his wife in her ascertation that what is to be admired in the world is the perservearance of a human being whom is submitted to evil and cruelty yet can rise above it all as a positive human being that can be a beacon of hope for all others. Read this book and make the decision yourself.

P.S. In case you're wondering, I didn't rate the book 5 stars because I found it very difficult to read. Also, I suggest that you read this book in conjuction with Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," as you can find the two different ideologies in each book.
3.0 out of 5 stars Original but repetitive and disappointing 10 Mar 2014
By J.D. Hunley - Published on Amazon.com
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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