Authors: Imre Kertész

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Hungarian novelist and short-story writer

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Sorstalanság, 1975 (Fateless, 1992)

A nyomkereső: Két regény, 1977

A kudarc, 1988

Kaddis a meg nem születetett gyermekért, 1990 (Kaddish for a Child Not Born, 1997)

Az angol labogó, 1991

Gályanapló, 1992

Jegyzőkönyv, 1993

Valaki más: A változas krónikája, 1997


A holocaust mint kultúra: Három előadás, 1993

A gondolatnyi csend, amíg a kivégzőosztag újratölt, 1998

A száműzött nyelv, 2001


Born of Jewish ancestry, Imre Kertész (KUR-teez) was raised in Budapest, Hungary. For his tenth birthday, his parents gave him a diary that served as a launching pad for his future writing endeavors. When the Germans began exterminating Jews in Hungary in 1944, Kertész was deported at the age of fourteen to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. A short time later, he was sent to the Buchenwald camp in Germany. In spite of the dire conditions in both camps, he survived. Kertész was liberated by the Allied forces in 1945.{$I[A]Kertész, Imre}{$I[geo]HUNGARY;Kertész, Imre}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Kertész, Imre}{$I[tim]1929;Kertész, Imre}

During the years between 1949 and 1951, Kertész was a journalist for the Világosság newspaper in Budapest. When the paper adopted the Communist point of view in 1951, he lost his job. After serving in the Hungarian army from 1951 to 1953, Kertész devoted his life to writing. Unable to write freely in a Communist-ruled country, he translated the works of many German authors, notably Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Elias Canetti, Joseph Roth, Arthur Schnitzler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, in order to support himself. Kertész also wrote musicals for the theater. For approximately thirty-five years, he and his wife lived in a one-room dwelling in Budapest, where he continued to write with little hope of having anything published.

Kertész completed his first novel, Fateless, in 1965. Although he said that it was not an autobiography, it provided a detailed account of a teenage Jewish boy who lived through experiences similar to those of Kertész himself, surviving within German concentration camps during World War II. The novel was finally published in 1975 but received little notoriety, probably due to the sensitive subject matter that depicted the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews from Hungary.

Fateless began what many critics label as a trilogy of novels by Kertész, all dealing with experiences of protagonist György Köves, a survivor of the Holocaust. The second in the series, A kudarc (fiasco), tells the story of an aging author who writes a novel about experiences in Auschwitz. The third novel, Kaddish for a Child Not Born, focuses on an aging Holocaust survivor who is an author and literary translator and who refuses to have any children in a world that could permit concentration camps and other forms of human abuse. The goal of Kertész in writing these novels was to enlighten the people of Hungary about the reality of the Holocaust and the atrocities carried out under its guise within Hungary. Along with many other authors, Kertész joined the Eastern European writers in socialist countries disguising their works about totalitarianism as examinations of Nazism.

By the early 1980’s, Kertész was still relatively unknown, even in Hungary. After the Soviet Union began to withdraw its troops from Eastern Europe in 1988, he finally started to gain an international reputation. Many of his works were translated into German, French, Swedish, and English. In 1992, a diary (Gályanapló) covering Kertész’s life from 1961 to 1991 was published in fictional form. Notes that Kertész kept from 1991 until 1995 were published in fictional form in 1997 under the title of Valaki más: A változas krónikája (I-another: chronicle of a metamorphosis). A collection of his lectures and essays was published in A holocaust mint kultúra (the Holocaust as culture), A gondolatnyi csend, amíg a kivégzőosztag újratölt (moments of silence while the execution squad reloads), and A száműzött nyelv (the exiled language).

Among the awards that Kertész has received for his writings are the Brandenburger Literaturpreis (1995), the Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung (1997), the Herder-Preis and the WELT-Literaturpreis (2000), the Ehrenpreisder Robert-Bosch-Stiftung (2001), and the Hans Sahl-Preis (2002). For his ability to portray in Fateless how an individual could survive the human degradation of Nazi concentration camps, Kertész was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002. He was the first Hungarian to receive the award. He described the prize as the biggest surprise in his life and the pinnacle of his writing career.

BibliographyBasa, Enikö Molnár, ed. Hungarian Literature. New York: Griffon House, 1993. Includes insights into the novels of Kertész and the influence of conditions in Hungary on his writings.Czigány, Lóránt. The Oxford History of Hungarian Literature from the Earliest Times to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Documents the style and contributions of Kertész to novel writing in Hungary.Nagy, Moses M., ed. A Journey into History: Essays on Hungarian Literature. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. Explores some of the contributions and impact of Kertész through his writings about conditions and circumstances associated with the Holocaust.Vasvári, Louise O. and Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek, eds. Imre Kertész and Holocaust Literature. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2005. A collection of essays that analyze Kertesz’s works and examine the impact the Holocaust had on forming his cultural and ethnic identity.
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