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Kaddish focuses on this man in his middle age as he reflects upon his childhood, his failed marriage, and his survival thus far. His wife leaves him because he refuses to father a child. She realizes that he does not want to live but she very much does.
The narrator uses his writing to keep himself going. The story is in the form of a monologue by this man, and the novel has no chapter divisions or other breaks. Kaddish was published in Hungary in , twenty-five years after the first novel of the four appeared. It was first translated into English in by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. He was relatively unknown, even in Hungary, when he was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in He was later transferred to Buchenwald, Germany.
He was fired from the newspaper in after it adopted the Communist Party line to be in compliance with the Communist government of Hungary. For more than forty years, Hungry was occupied by the Soviet Union and had a communist form of government. It was first translated into English in ; a new translation was published in Fateless is generally considered to be the first in a series of four novels.
The second novel, Fiasco , published in , has as of not been translated into English. The third novel, Kaddish for a Child Not Born , was published in Hungarian in and translated into English in ; a subsequent translation retitled Kaddish for an Unborn Child was released in Although not labeled by the author as a tetralogy, these four titles share the same main character and follow him from youth to death.
He became known to the world when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in Kaddish for a Child Not Born opens with an emphatic "No! He thinks about how "life itself demands explanations from us," and we end up "explaining ourselves to death. The narrator and philosopher are staying at a resort near the Central Mountains in Hungary. The narrator explains, "if I didn't work I would have to exist, and if I existed, I don't know what I would be forced to do then.
His meeting in the woods with Dr. Oblath, a professor of philosophy, is by chance. In thinking about the question, the narrator claims "with this 'no' I destroyed everything, demolished everything, above all, my ill-fated, short-lived marriage. Oblath has asked the narrator if he has a child. Although the answer is a simple "no," the underlying decision is complex and at the heart of the story to be told. Oblath expresses that he and his wife do not have a child, and it has only recently occurred to him to regret their lack of offspring.
For the rest of their walk the narrator and Dr. Oblath talk about the state of the world and other large topics, to which the narrator privately assigns little value. He finally admits to himself that he stays to walk and talk with Dr. Oblath to avoid his own emptiness. This emptiness catches up with him at night, when he is alone in his room.
There is a thunder-storm and his mind, mirroring the explosive weather, goes back over the question of children: "'Were you to be a dark-eyed girl? With pale spots of scattered freckles around your little nose? Or a stubborn boy? With cheerful, hard eyes like blue-grey pebbles?
The narrator thinks of his career as a literary translator and writer, which draws him to thoughts about his ex-wife. She questioned him about his motives: "'if you don't want to be successful, then why do you bother to write at all? Now when they meet each other she seems to feel guilty and nostalgic. He bears her no ill will because all she wants is to live fully, which she could not do while married to him. The narrator slips back to thinking about his writing, pondering how he used it to engage in a dialogue with God, but now God is dead so the dialogue needs be with other people and with oneself.
He recalls how as a child he was sent one summer to visit relatives in the country. He thinks of these relatives as "real Jews," those who observe rituals and rites of their religion, Judaism. While there, the narrator opens a bedroom door and sees his aunt as " a bald woman in a red gown in front of a mirror. When the war engulfs Hungary, the narrator finds himself, a secular Jew, being grouped with people like his relatives, and he suddenly sees himself as " a bald woman in a red gown in front of a mirror.
One tells the other that she could not have sex with a Jew, which enrages the narrator. His future wife then arrives. She has read his work and wants to talk to him about it. He remembers their love when it was young and is pained. He finally settles on wanting to remember because "memory is knowledge. He makes no fuss over being a survivor, although he finds himself writing compulsively, inexplicably.
He makes a living from his writing although he does not feel he has to because he could have chosen some other profession.
Ultimately he feels there is a very serious connection between his writing and survival. His writing does not offer solutions, just occupation and possible escape. He considers his writing to be a form of grave digging, a grave begun at the concentration camps: "the pen is my spade. Earlier in life, when thinking about his unborn children, the narrator saw his "life in the context of the potentiality of [their] existence.
He remembers again the party at which he met his wife. Someone got the idea to name where they were during the war. When someone says "Auschwitz" just ahead of the narrator , the host declares that that response is "unbeatable," as if this were a contest grimly won.
The partygoers then begin to discuss a popular book which contained this sentence: "Auschwitz cannot be explained. He voices his opinion and at this point his future wife notices him and comes to speak to him afterward. He says that now he rarely voices his opinions, although they have not changed. He does not go to the resort to exchange opinions with intellectuals. It is the same place where he lived as a child.
He thinks unhappily upon his childhood. The narrator then returns to the statement: "Auschwitz cannot be explained. The narrator states that rather "what could not be explained is that no Auschwitz ever existed. Alluding to Adolf Hitler , he states that even when "demonic," a great man is still a great man and such a man was needed for "our disgusting affairs.
He tells a story about an emaciated man called the Professor who was with him on a carriage transport for sick prisoners. The narrator was ill, and there was very little food. The Professor got the narrator's portion and then they were separated. The narrator knew that while he would likely die without that food, the Professor's chances of survival would have been greatly increased with the extra food. But the Professor found the sick boy and gave him his food. When he sees the surprise on the narrator's face, he replies with "recognizable disgust on his moribund face: 'Well, what did you expect …?
The narrator then writes about failure, concluding that "failure alone remains as the one single accomplishable experience. The narrator wonders why he works—except that he must.
He recalls a conversation with his ex-wife about the Professor. He tells her what the Professor did is about freedom, rather than survival which is what would be natural. She disagrees, saying that what the Professor did is natural. The narrator thinks about women and relationships. He would like to believe that his personal freedom is required to keep himself enthusiastic about his work but actually it is the struggle for that freedom. Both freedom and happiness seem to stunt his work. Thinking upon unhappiness, he realizes his situation: he requires a continuous source of pain to maintain his ability to work.
Having realized it, he is able to dismiss it as having any power over himself. Following this analysis, in his next relationship with a woman the narrator avows that they can remain together only so long as love is not a part of their union. But then he meets his future wife. He is living in a rented room while his friends have bought houses at the price of their mental and physical health; however, he willingly chooses his more transient lifestyle.
The narrator remembers how, when his camp was liberated, he came upon a German soldier cleaning a bathroom sink and smiling at him. The experience was disorienting, this reversal of their situations. After liberation, the narrator continued to live at the camp for some time, and he feels that he is continuing that experience by being a renter.
But this so-called freedom is complicated by the sense that "the Germans may return at any time. He clings fiercely to his few possessions, but otherwise he keeps himself free of being controlled by possessions. He rents and is not concerned with maintaining the property.
He rents furnished apartments and never thinks to rearrange or replace the furniture. Once in a while he buys a book; other-wise, he despises clutter. He has long suffered from a sense of alienation. The narrator feels that if he could only understand all of himself—his physical bodily functions as well as his mind and soul—all in one tremendous moment, then he would not feel alienated.
He is searching for salvation beyond any religion or creed.
Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertész
It is how a middle-aged Hungarian-Jewish writer answers an acquaintance who asks him if he has a child, and it is how he answered his wife years earlier when she told him that she wanted one. The loss, longing and regret that haunt the years between these two 'No! 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". As a youth, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz and later in Buchenwald. He worked as a journalist and playwright before publishing Fateless, his first novel, in
Kaddish for an Unborn Child
Kaddish focuses on this man in his middle age as he reflects upon his childhood, his failed marriage, and his survival thus far. His wife leaves him because he refuses to father a child. She realizes that he does not want to live but she very much does. The narrator uses his writing to keep himself going.
Kaddish for a Child Not Born
That may be the toughest censorship of all. The first noticeable aspect of Kaddish is its style, which is so highly indebted to Thomas Bernhard's that the matter of plagiarism can be discounted — and the debt is explicitly acknowledged, anyway. The extract gives you a flavour, and note the rhetorical throat-clearing of "as it were", the progression of impossibilities other people, nature, himself the audacious proposal that harmony with oneself is morally impoverished, and you begin to get the idea; you also get the idea that Tim Wilkinson is a seriously good translator. The word that sounds throughout the book is "No!