Imre Kertész in Mandalay (2007)
9 November 1929|
|Died||31 March 2016
Kaddish for an Unborn Child
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize in Literature
Imre Kertész (Hungarian: [ˈimrɛ ˈkɛrteːs]; 9 November 1929 – 31 March 2016) was a Hungarian author and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Literature, "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history". He was the first Hungarian to win the Nobel in Literature. His works deal with themes of Nazi Holocaust (he was a survivor of a German concentration camp), dictatorship and personal freedom. He died on 31 March 2016, aged 86, at his home in Budapest after suffering from Parkinson's disease for several years.
Life and work
Kertész was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 9 November 1929, the son of Aranka Jakab and László Kertész, a bourgeois Jewish couple. After his parents separated when he was around the age of five, Kertész attended a boarding school and, in 1940, he started secondary school where he was put into a special class for Jewish students. During World War II, Kertész was deported in 1944 at the age of 14 with other Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and was later sent to Buchenwald. Upon his arrival at the camps, Kertész claimed to be a 16-year old worker, thus saving him from the instant extermination that awaited a 14-year old. After his camp was liberated in 1945, Kertész returned to Budapest, graduated from high school in 1948, and then went on to find work as a journalist and translator. In 1951, he lost his job at the journal Világosság (Clarity) after the publication started leaning towards communism. For a short term he worked as a factory worker and then in the press department of the Ministry of Heavy Industry. From 1953 he started freelance journalism and translated various works into Hungarian, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Elias Canetti.
His best-known work, Fatelessness (Sorstalanság), describes the experience of 15-year-old György (George) Köves in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Zeitz. Written between 1960 and 1973, the novel was initially rejected for publication by the Communist regime in Hungary, but was published in 1975. Some have interpreted the book as quasi-autobiographical, but the author disavows a strong biographical connection. The book would go on to become part of many high school curriculums in Hungary. In 2005, a film based on the novel, for which he wrote the script, was made in Hungary. Although sharing the same title, some reviews noted that the film was more autobiographical than the novel on which it was based. It was released internationally at various dates in 2005 and 2006.
Following on from Fatelessness, Kertész's Fiasco (1988) and Kaddish for an Unborn Child (1990) are, respectively, the second and third parts of his holocaust trilogy. His writings translated into English include Kaddish for an Unborn Child (Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért) and Liquidation (Felszámolás), the latter set during the period of Hungary's evolution into a democracy from communist rule.
From the beginning, Kertész found little appreciation for his writing in Hungary, and he moved to Germany where he received more active support from publishers and reviewers, along with more appreciative readers. After his move, he continued translating German works into Hungarian, notably The Birth of Tragedy, the plays of Dürrenmatt, Schnitzler and Tankred Dorst, and various thoughts and aphorisms of Wittgenstein. Kertész also continued working at his craft, writing his fiction in Hungarian, but did not publish another novel until the late 1980s. But from that point on, he submitted his work to publishers in Hungary until his death in March 2016. Grateful that he had found his most significant success as a writer and artist in Germany, Kertész left his abatement to the Academy of Arts in Berlin.
In November 2013, Kertész underwent a successful surgery on his right hip after falling down in his home. However, he continued to deal with various health concerns during the last few years of his life. He'd recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and he was again suffering from depression, reported to have been a recurring battle in his own life. In fact, Kertész had struggled with this same issue through his art, as the main character of his 2003 book Felszámolás (Liquidation) commits suicide after struggling with depression.
Kertész died in Budapest on 31 March 2016 at the age of 86.
Kertész was a controversial figure within Hungary, especially since being Hungary's first and only Nobel Laureate in Literature, he still lived in Germany. This tension was exacerbated by a 2009 interview with Die Welt, in which Kertész vowed himself a "Berliner" and called Budapest "completely balkanized." Many Hungarian newspapers reacted negatively to this statement, claiming it to be hypocritical. Other critics viewed the Budapest comment ironically, saying it represented "a grudge policy that is painfully and unmistakably, characteristically Hungarian." Kertész later clarified in a Duna TV interview that he had intended his comment to be "constructive" and called Hungary "his homeland."
Also controversial was Kertész's criticism of Steven Spielberg's depiction of the Holocaust in the 1993 film Schindler's List as kitsch, saying: "I regard as kitsch any representation of the Holocaust that is incapable of understanding or unwilling to understand the organic connection between our own deformed mode of life and the very possibility of the Holocaust."
In November 2014 Kertész was the subject of an interview with The New York Times. Kertész claimed the reporter was expecting him to question Hungary's democratic values and was shocked to hear Kertész say that "the situation in Hungary is nice, I'm having a great time". According to Kertész, "he didn't like my answer. His purpose must have been to make me call Hungary a dictatorship which it isn't. In the end the interview was never published".
List of works
- Sorstalanság (1975)
- A nyomkereső (1977)
- Detektívtörténet (1977)
- A kudarc (1988)
- Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért (1990)
- Az angol lobogó (1991)
- Gályanapló (1992)
- A holocaust mint kultúra: Három előadás (1993)
- Jegyzőkönyv (1993)
- Valaki más: A változás krónikája (1997)
- A gondolatnyi csend, amíg a kivégzőosztag újratölt (1998)
- A száműzött nyelv (2001)
- Felszámolás (2003)
- K. dosszié (2006)
- Európa nyomasztó öröksége (2008)
- Mentés másként (2011)
- A végső kocsma (2014)
Awards and honors
- 1992, 1995: Soros Prize
- 1995: Brandenburg Literature Prize
- 1997: Friedrich-Gundolf-Preis
- 1997: Darmstadt Academy Prize
- 1997: Jeanette Schocken Preis 
- 2000: Herder Prize
- 2000: Welt-Literaturpreis
- 2001: Pour le Mérite (Germany)
- 2002: Hans Sahl Prize
- 2002: Nobel Prize in Literature
- 2003: YIVO Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2004: Corine Literature Prize
- 2004: Goethe Medal
- 2009: Jean Améry Prize
- 2011: Grande Médaille de Vermeil de la ville de Paris
- 1983: Milán Füst Prize
- 1986: Hieronymus Prize
- 1988: Artisjus Literature Prize
- 1989: Aszu Prize
- 1989: Attila József Prize
- 1997: Kossuth Prize
- 2002: Honorary Citizen of Budapest
- 2014: Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary
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- "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2002 - Bio-bibliography". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
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- Jeanette Schocken Preis. (in German) jeanette-schocken-preis.de
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- "WELT-Literaturpreis an Imre Kertész in Berlin verliehen". Buch Markt (in German). 10 November 2000. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
- Kertész and Safdie honored. YIVO News. Summer 2003. No. 196, page 4.
- Die Preisträger. (in German) www.corine.de
- "Imre Kertész was awarded the Jean Améry Prize". HLO. 8 July 2009. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
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- "Szent István Renddel tüntették ki Kertész Imrét és Rubik Ernőt" [Imre Kertész and Ernő Rubik have been awarded the Order of Saint Stephen]. 20 August 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
- Molnár, Sára. "Nobel in Literature 2002 Imre Kertész's Aesthetics of the Holocaust" CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 5.1 (2003)
- Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven. "And the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature Goes to Imre Kertész, Jew and Hungarian" CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 5.1 (2003)
- Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven. "Imre Kertész's Nobel Prize, Public Discourse, and the Media" CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 7.4 (2005)
- Vasvári, Louise O., and Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven, eds. Imre Kertész and Holocaust Literature. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2005. ISBN 978-1-55753-396-8
- Vasvári, Louise O., and Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven, eds. Comparative Central European Holocaust Studies. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2009. ISBN 978-1-55753-526-9
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Imre Kertész.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Imre Kertész|
- The Last Word – an interview with Kertész from Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: "Forget You Not"
- Luisa Zielinski (Summer 2013). "Imre Kertész, The Art of Fiction No. 220". The Paris Review.
- Imre Kertész—Nobel Lecture
- B.-ing There, a review of the novel Liquidation by Ben Ehrenreich, Village Voice, 20 December 2004
- Haaretz article on Kertész
- 2011 Interview on "Self-imposed exile and writing" with Swedish publisher Svante Weyler.