Absurd Reality

Dossier K

Imre Kertész
Translated by Tim Wilkinson
Melville House, $18.95, 218 pp.

Imre Kertész is a concentration-camp survivor who keeps a distance from the slogans that remind us “never again.” He resists the impulse to create meaning out of an “absurdity,” criticizing even the word that has come to sum up this history: Holocaust.

Kertész’s novels, short stories, and essays spell out these views. But who has read him? We have barely heard of him, and for many reasons. He writes in Hungarian, not exactly a lingua franca. In 1945 he left behind the horrors of German Nazism soon to fall into the oppression of Hungarian Communism. He spent two decades forgetting Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Then in 2002, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. For authors lauded in their native countries, the prize is icing on the cake. For others, like Kertész, it provides a first taste of recognition. Another benefit is widespread translation. Today, much of his writing is available to readers of English, including Dossier K. Although it is subtitled “a memoir,” Kertész suggests teasingly that it may be a novel. Whatever it is—memoir, novel, dialogue (its actual format)—better to think of it as the key to reading his fiction: “Imre...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.