After a protracted illness, Imre Kertész, the only Hungarian Nobel Literature laureate, passed away on 31 March, at 4 a.m. in his Budapest home, at the age of 87.
Krisztián Nyáry, the director of Magvető Kiadó, Kertész's Hungarian publisher said that even in the last months of his life, Imre Kertész participated in the editing process of his last book, entitled A néző (The Spectator), a collection of his diary entries written between 1991 and 2001.
Born in 9 November 1929, Imre Kertész was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 14, then transported to Buchenwald. After the liberation of the camps, he returned to Budapest in 1945.
He worked on his first novel Fatelessness from 1960 to 1973. The novel, rejected by several publishers and eventually published in 1975, was largely ignored at the time, and in the 1980s, Kertész's main livelihood was provided by translation. Success came only towards the end of that decade. Kertész's works have been very popular in German translation; Rowohlt published his collected works in 1999. From 1998, he was member of the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in Darmstadt; he was also a founding member of the Hungarian Digital Literary Academy, and member of the Széchenyi Academy of Art and Literature.
Kertész's numerous international prizes include the Jean Améry Prize, the Herder Prize, the literary prize of Die Welt and the German Order Pour le Mérite. His native Hungary awarded him with the Kossuth Prize, the Attila József Prize and the Order of St Stephen.
Kertész was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002, the first Hungarian writer ever to receive the award. "Kertész's message is that to live is to conform," the Swedish Academy said. "Individual experience seems useless as soon as it is considered in the light of the needs and interests of the human collective."
To this day, Kertész's Fatelessness is one of the most authentic and influential novels on the Holocaust. After Kertész received the Nobel Prize, many of his works were translated into English, including Fiasco, Kaddish for an Unborn Child, Liquidation, Detective Story, The Pathseeker, The Union Jack, and Dossier K. At least one of Kertész's books has been translated to all major languages of the world. Fatelessness is available in Hindi and Arabic as well.
The main themes of Kertész's works are the possibility of freedom in a totalitarian society and the irreconcilability of different mindsets and different discourses.
Photo: Gábor Valuska
Kertész himself wrote the script for Lajos Koltai's adaptation of Fatelessness, a popular film which received mixed reviews.
Imre Kertész's translations into Hungarian include works by Elias Canetti, Sigmund Freud, Hugo von Hoffmannstahl, Friedrich Nietzsche, Joseph Roth, Arthur Schnitzler, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and contemporary German and Austrian authors.
Photo: Máté Nándorfi - MTI
"There is a moment in our life when we suddenly become aware of ourselves, and our forces are liberated; it is only from this moment that we can regard ourselves as ourselves; this is the moment when we are born. The seeds of genius are present in everyone. But not everyone is capable of making their lives their own lives. Real genius is existential genius. I would even venture to say that basically all knowledge is useless that is not knowledge about ourselves," Kertész says in Galley Boat-Log.
Péter Esterházy writes about Kertész that he is "not an optimist and not a pessimist. His homelessness is not of a political nature, as his freedom is not either. What incredible power in powerlessness..."
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