Imre Kertész

Imre Kertész was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1929. His parents were Jewish.  At age 15, he was deported to Auschwitz and in 1945 freed from the Buchenwald concentration camp. After the war ended, Kertész worked in Communist Hungary as a journalist for the daily newspaper ‘Vilagosság’, but lost his position when the paper took up the party’s position.  To earn a living, he wrote musicals and entertainment pieces. Starting in 1976 he also worked as a translator.  He has translated Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein, Hofmannsthal, Canetti, Josef Roth, Schnitzler, and Tankred Dorst into Hungarian.  Between 1960 and 1973 he wrote the Holocaust novel ‘Sorstalanság’, which was published in Hungary in 1975, but which first came to the public’s attention in 1985. A new translation of the work was published in 1996 and helped Kertész, who in the meantime had also published numerous essays, stories, and novels – such as ‘A nyomkeresö’ (1977), ‘Az angol lobogó’ (1991; Engl: The English Flag), and the ‘Gályanapló’ (1992; Engl: Galley Diary) – make his international breakthrough.

Kertész’ writing focuses on his concentration camp experiences. In the highly autobiographical novel ‘Sorstalansag’ (Engl: ‘Fateless’, 1992), in a deeply sensitive way and with rational distance, Kertész describes the suffering of a 15-year-old boy who is deported to a concentration camp and after his release has to face the people of Budapest and their lack of understanding.  Together with the books ‘A kudarc’ (1988; Engl: ‘Fiasco’) and ‘Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért’ (1990; Engl: ‘Kaddish for a Child Not Born’, 1992), this novel forms a “Trilogy of Fatelessness.”  In ‘A kudarc’, Kertész tells the difficult story of how his first novel came into being and what a writer’s life was like under the conditions of a Communist dictatorship.  The novel ‘Kaddish for a Child Not Born’ is about the lasting consequences of the Shoah.  The monologue of a writer and Holocaust survivor, who after Auschwitz does not want to father any new life, is presented in the form of a prayer of mourning.

In addition to various prizes, in 2002 Kertész received a scholarship from the Institute for Advanced Study Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin), where he worked on his new novel ‘Felszámolás’ (Engl: Liquidation), which is situated in Hungary “at the time of the political change”, and with which, as he himself says, he takes a last look at the Holocaust.  In December 2002, Kertész received the Nobel Prize for Literature.  The jury thereby acknowledged his work, “which is about the fragile experience of the individual in the face of the barbarisms of history.” Kertész was awarded the Goethe Medal in 2004 and received an honourary doctorate from the Freie Universität, Berlin one year later. He lived in Budapest and Berlin. He passed away on 31 March 2016.

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