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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Masterpiece
Elias Canetti's Auto Da Fe is a fairly disturbing piece of literature. The most obvious theme is madness but delusion and isloation are also key factors. The protagonist is Professor Kien, a reclusive sociopath who although being a sensitive soul has no abilty to understand and relate to people. Although he is a misanthrope by nature there are touching moments when he...
Published on 20 July 2007 by Angus Lillie

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, dark and depressing
Seems to be the marmite of books judging by the reviews! The first hundred pages or so of this novel are really interesting, where we are introduced to the world of the sinologist 'professor'. As someone who is interested in Oriental studies I was hoping to find more of this as the book progressed but sadly not enough. At first the professor is portrayed as the oddball...
Published on 17 Dec 2010 by Odysseus


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Masterpiece, 20 July 2007
By 
Angus Lillie ""The Autodidact"" (Stromness or Dundee, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Auto Da Fé (Paperback)
Elias Canetti's Auto Da Fe is a fairly disturbing piece of literature. The most obvious theme is madness but delusion and isloation are also key factors. The protagonist is Professor Kien, a reclusive sociopath who although being a sensitive soul has no abilty to understand and relate to people. Although he is a misanthrope by nature there are touching moments when he considers people his friends and is temporarily relieved of his instinctive malevolence. In a moment of lunacy he weds his maid, a simple minded reactonary who largely causes his demise. We see him go from being independant and wholly immersed in his studies to being thrown out of his own home. He comes to rely on the minipulative dwarf; Fischerle, who suffers from delusions of grandeur and although robbing poor Kien blind does enlist the professor's brother to try and help him. The other character of note is the violence obsessed fascist Bennedikt Pfaff who is totally unable to relate to people without using his fists. Published in 1935 it tells of people who cannot empathise and cannot see the error of their ways. For Canetti, a jew living in Vienna, the outlook was not a pleasant one and the sense of impending doom is portrayed eloquently and with imagery that draws you in to the gloomy lives of its characters. The narrative is lucid and weaves in and out of the characters thoughts with subtlety and precision. I thoroughly recommend this book, the first fifty pages are the most difficult but persevere and you will be rewarded.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure power, 23 Jan 2012
By 
William Jamieson "Tymothy Pyn" (Negativland) - See all my reviews
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This novel seems to really get people's goat. All the criticisms leveled against it are true to a certain extent, there is no character worthy of easy or obvious sympathy, the translation trips over itself at certain moments, it is an exhausting book. But all these faults contribute to its specific lure, its terrible power. Though mean, Canetti's prose doesn't come across as misanthropic. Though furious, it isn't bile after bucket of bile being dashed across the page. The fury comes through the curved vertices of a magnifying glass, an ultimate tragedy and comedy which leaves you uncertain of whether you are really meant to be laughing. It ends in ecstatic despair, leaving you drained, weightless, and finally uplifted. This novel is pure power, without sympathy or misanthropy, a cold eye looking at madness in all of its luscious dysfunction.

Auto Da Fe overcame me, with all its ugliness and tragic comedy. From that summation this novel seems like some cheap thrill to exercise misanthropy, but the depth, focus, restraint (and occasional lack of) transform it from indulgence to a modern myth about delusion, sacrifice and belief. The inevitable and final release of Peter Kien is the most beautiful end to any story I have read, seen or heard. At the heart, there is great love for humanity, viewed through the harshest glass.

This story is complete, with all its cracks, and has been my bible for sometime.

Oh yeah, and it's fun. Do you hear that? Auto Da Fe is a fun book, like as fun as some moderate acts of arson.

Though I haven't read a lot, I have yet to read something as unimpeachable, or dare I say it, perfect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book, 18 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Auto Da Fé (Kindle Edition)
A book about the everyday life of a man who dislikes people but finds comfort in his books and his mind. It's actually very enthralling. Seeing the main character navigate the ways of life via his marriage to a most ill-matched partner, I just could not stop reading. I found it captivating, possibly because I see so much of myself in the Professor.

I highly recommend this read!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some people never get it - this book, this style, this story, this main character, 23 Mar 2013
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H. Tee (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Auto Da Fé (Paperback)
This is a most remarkable novel written in 1935 by this Bulgarian Nobel winning novelist. This immediately appears to be an excellent translation of the German (I'm no expert but suspect the poor ratings given by others confuse the 'original style' as a poor translation?). The book is quite long 430 pages of dense small text.

The basic story centres around fiftysomething Peter Kien, a scholar of all things Oriental and bibliophile. He's insular, intellectual, virginal, never married, slightly misogynist, uptight, knowledgeable and alone. Peter has a huge library which means everything to him. He has a younger brother called George who's a psychologist who he hasn't seen for many years. After eight years in service his housekeeper Therese plots to marry Peter believing him extremely wealthy. She is poorly educated, cannot read well, also fifty but imagines herself thirty, money grapping, scheming and sour individual. After a single incident of brain manipulation by pretending to revere a book, they end up marrying. On the wedding night, wearing a fulsome blue dress (which keeps repeating in the story - a representation of the Virgin Mary?) she either actually or otherwise puts him off - they don't consummate the marriage and Peter realises his mistake. But too late - she controls, beats and schemes to get written in his will, take over Peter's flat etc. They both seem to enter periods of madness and deliberate misunderstandings (for example a key early one is that the wealth Therese imagines Peter has gets confused by Peter as an inheritance of Therese (to spend on more books)). They have delusions and accidents, Therese falls for a shop assistant, Peter falls off a ladder (trying to turn all his books round so the spine/title cannot be read) and there's a whole period of belief he's died - this introduces the simple yet respectful ex-policeman, caretaker Benedikt, another strange character. Peter is eventually forced to leave with his bankbook/money locking Therese in the flat. He finds the Jewish, dwarf, criminal chess-champion gang leader Fischerle who recues Peter from a mob stealing his money. Yet Fischerle regrets his actions when he could have had some himself and then precedes to form a gang (a hawker, Blind man, his ex-wife and sewer man)to con Peter of all the money whilst being his hotel room librarian. Peter believes he's murdered Therese and ends up being arrested (alongside Therese) and keeps quiet whilst being interrogated - A letter Fischerle sends brings George to analyse Peter. {I've given no more of the story away than is written on the back covered)

Please don't confuse this as a standard story and novel, the style is dense, difficult, deep, imaginative, philosophical and rather surreal. There aren't many characters, there's the reality motives story underlying the internalised, delusional view of the world of the people involved. The book is a cross between Bely's Petersburg, Gunter's Tin Drum and Faulkner's Absalom. "Auto de Fe" means `Act of faith' more factual `Act of Penitence' and I guess Peter is allowing his actions to amend for his person.

Some quotes/passages (the first earlier example describes how Peter has yet to discover blindness, and sort of summaries the whole delusional basis of the book):

"Blindness is a weapon against time and space; our being is one vast blindness, save only for that little circle which our mean intelligence - mean in its nature as in its scope - can illuminate. The dominating principle of the universe is blindness. It makes possible juxtapositions which would be impossible if the objects could see each other. It permits the truncation of time when time is unendurable. Time is a continuum whence there is one escape only. By closing the eyes to it from time to time, it is possible to splinter it into those fragments with which alone we are familiar."

"She would not forgive him for being alive when he was dead, but she was ready to overlook it, since he still had his will to make"

"it was Christ with Toothache"

"Quicker and quicker came Therese's fears. Sometimes he had murdered his first wife, sometimes he had murdered her. She thought the skirt away from the corpse; the skirt confused her more than anything; she was sorry for his first wife, because he'd treated her skirt so badly. She was ashamed of the wretched funeral. She hated the bloodhound. People have no manners and school children don't get the cane often enough. Men ought to work more and women can't cook these days. She could give them a piece of her mind. What's it got to do with the tenants? They all come and peep."

Finally if you haven't been persuaded to read this brilliant book (sorry that's my poor review not the book) I'd mention it's in three parts titled `A head without a world', `Headless work' and finally `The world in the head'. A lot of effort required but an easy 5 stars.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, dark and depressing, 17 Dec 2010
This review is from: Auto Da Fé (Paperback)
Seems to be the marmite of books judging by the reviews! The first hundred pages or so of this novel are really interesting, where we are introduced to the world of the sinologist 'professor'. As someone who is interested in Oriental studies I was hoping to find more of this as the book progressed but sadly not enough. At first the professor is portrayed as the oddball and the rest of the world as normal, but after his wife eventually kicks him out of his own appartment an inversion takes place and he becomes the anti-hero. Just when you thought the professor was the craziest character in the novel, the caretaker, the wife not to mention the dwarf are all revealed to be even crazier, and with evil intentions. This is a very dark novel in truth and will not be to the liking of many people. For me though the main difficulty was the sheer length of some of the scenes - the pawn shop library scene was 90 pages for example, which was just too drawn out for me. I was totally bored in some places and just wanted to get to the finishing line: there are endless pages where we are drawn into a Joycean-style stream of consciousness thing, which go on far too long for me. In addition to this structural weakness (text of titanic proportions), I agree with others that there seems to be problems with the translation. I say "seems" since I don't read German, so perhaps in the original it is equally as odd. This is a unique novel in the sense that I'm sure there isn't another one remotely similar. Historically it is significant, banned by the Nazis and only 'discovered' in the 1960s. I am curious to know if this was the main factor in Canetti's Nobel Prize award. I would understand why, but would not completely agree with the judges as it is too unpolished. As Pascal said "I apologize that this letter is so long - I lacked the time to make it short." Canetti should have made this half the length and it would have been a stunning novel; as it is it lacks punch and drags along like a tanker. Overall, I would rate this as three stars: minus one star for being too drawn out, minus another for not having enough sinology.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 11 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Auto Da Fé (Kindle Edition)
A dark, hilarious and surreal book. The narcissistic solipsism of the characters is at once fantastic and frighteningly real. Read again and again.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Of a cannon, 25 July 2013
This review is from: Auto Da Fé (Paperback)
You don't get the Nobel prize for nothing.
[...]
Elias won his in 1981.
This book and his tongue, eyes, ears trilogy are mainly what he got it for.

To some extent following in the Viennese school of magical realism, anyone who loves Tin Drum (Grass), Glass Bead Game (Hesse), The Trial (Kafka), will also enjoy this. It's not what's written but the experience of what you think while you are reading it that gives this book it's value. It's certainly not Enid Blyton.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Those Great "Single Novels", 14 May 2003
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Every now and then through the course of literary history, a writer produces a great book and retreats back into another aspect of their life; in Canetti's case, this retreat was into non-fiction and the intense work he put into his decades-in-the-making study CROWDS & POWER. In the mid 1930's, however, he produced this novel, DIE BLENDUNG (THE BLINDING; translated into English as AUTO-DA-FE [UK] and TOWER OF BABEL [US]). I love this book, possibly because I'm a bibliophile and can relate, in a sick and twisted way, to the protagonist covering up all of the windows and walls of his Berlin apartment with bookshelves. He is a misanthropic, bitter unhappy man who is a top researcher in Sinology. Then comes his housekeeper and an odd hunchbacked dwarf, and the rest is, well, simultaneously repulsive and hilarious. I can see where some would leave it in midstream but I loved it from beginning to end and thought Canetti did a great job conveying that classic battle between the isolationist and his all-invasive surroundings.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Auto Da Fe is, ostensibly, a modern morality play., 8 Feb 2006
I still can't decide whether Auto Da Fe is the most nihilistic book I've ever read or one of the most humanistic. On one hand, Canetti treats his characters with unflinching (and, at times, comic, due to its extremity) brutality; they're all repugnant at best (lecherous murderers at worst), their desires are pitifully shallow, and, on the whole, they're painfully unintelligent. One might say that Canetti is the anti-Sherwood Anderson in this regard. Whereas the latter author strives to make the lives of his characters more significant through their "grotesqueness", the former uses said grotesqueness to render them less than human.
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.
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The destruction of a man who can't step out of his own mind., 6 Aug 2001
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Canetti's excursion into the head of Kien, the central character, is very much post-Kafka. He leads you further and further into Kien's nightmare of a life, and his inability to deal with the everyday. Although a great, and comically immodest, scholar, first his servant Therese, and then the hunchback, Fischerle, take him into a hell where he can only watch as events unfold. Finally, saved, he throws himself in self-defiance, into the final inferno. A novel you'll either love, or throw into the fire after 25 pages.
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Auto Da Fé
Auto Da Fé by Elias Canetti (Paperback - 23 Jun 2005)
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