Imre Kertész: Writing the Impossible Novel

Review excerpt by Anna Porter
Queen’s Quarterly, Fall 2011

“I can only write the one novel it is given me to write,” the central character in Imre Kertész’s novel Fiasco explains to a friend. The statement could apply as easily to Imre Kertész himself. He has written and continues to write the book he needs to write and wants others to read. It has appeared in different time frames, with the same central character at different times of his life, and always with the same core theme: the inescapable fact of the Holocaust. This simple historical truth ended Europe’s illusion of its own civilization and, as Kertész explores in his fiction and non-fiction works, began the unforgiving era of survival.

The Holocaust cannot be repaired, cannot be avenged, assuaged, or even understood. It is the complete moral failure of European society. All one can do, Kertész says, is to look it in the face and recognize it. In his own case, he was able to turn the experience into something positive: writing.