Despite all deliberation, sense, insight and sober reason, I could not fail to recognize within myself the furtive and yet – ashamed as it might be, so to say, of its irrationality – increasingly insistent voice of some muffled craving of sorts: I would like to live a little bit longer in this beautiful concentration camp.
Reading a book from every single country in the world has turned from a mere project to a difficult challenge. While unsuccessfully trying to manage work and sleep (with work more or less always the ultimate winner) reading has been reduced to those 20 mins in the tube in the morning, while I desperately try to keep my eyes open. While I love reading, I probably love complaining about my job more. Searching for ways to optimise even more my reading experience, I decided to attempt and combine two projects in one – continue reading a book from each country, but also honouring all Nobel prize winners (whose countries I still haven’t visited with a book). The first, Hungarian and concentration camp survivor Imre Kertesz, won the Noble prize in 2002. His debut novel Fatelessness, though, already shows the immense talent of a writer, who portrays the unimaginable – life in one of the Nazi’s death camps.
The semi-autobiographical novel follows the story of Georg Koves – a 14-year-old Hungarian Jew who is captured by the Germans and send to all of the “famous” concentration camps – Auschwitz, Buchenwald and eventually Zeitz. A fairly normal working day turns for the worst and Georg, along with many other boys his age, finds himself on the train to death. It seems strange but all the famine and torture associated with the death camps seems to pass by Georg unnoticed. For most of the time he feels like a distant observer, describing something that is not quite happening to him but to someone he barely knows. Unlike many others Georg feels no sense of belonging to the Jewish community. He feels no hatred towards the Germans. He feels no sense of revenge. Sometimes one might say he is devoid of any feelings towards his situation. Without questioning his destiny, Georg accepts every obstacle on the way, as if this is quite the normal existence.
Upon returning from the camp Georg is as indifferent to the experience as before. While it seems he is quite disconnected from the destiny of his fellow inmates, probably this indifference is the one thing that saves his sanity. While many others seek for reasons for their misery, Georg accepts and forgets it. He refuses to blame anyone, be it the Germans, or himself. He refuses to remember and he assigns all of his experiences to someone else, distant and unknown. Georg is hardly sympathetic to the reader, but he is quite real – real in his complete numbness towards the painful reality that surrounds him.
Imre Kertesz uses his own experiences in the German concentration camps to portray a rather different intake of the Holocaust. The novel doesn’t blame, doesn’t explain, doesn’t attempt to comprehend cruelty that is beyond any comprehension. It states the facts – through the eyes of Georg – and lives the decision to the reader. Is it better to live with hatred and bitterness or to ignore and to forget?