Kaddish for an Unborn Child (Vintage International)
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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.
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.See all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
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.
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.