In a world in which market-oriented sensations rule, even as the celebrations carry on he dares look in the eye the expropriation of the fatelessness which his fate has become. He calls it his clown nature.
The sixteen-year-old kid was thrust into one of the twentieth century’s deepest cauldrons of death, where millions were murdered.
He partook of the exceptionality of staying alive.
He survived everything which afterwards was to accompany his fate all along, European and domestic history. Meanwhile starting to form himself into a writer.
He found a language to tell the untellable. Only a few attempted that experiment — most of them died in doing so.
For the entire world he became the only one who nevertheless 'created' an authoritative literature out of what many considered it could not be made.
He lived to see that this has been crowned by success.
In the country where gendarmes thrust him into a death train, he has had to put up with fresh insults, and behind the abuse a force field is pulsing again, with a courtier garde denouncing those who are 'foreign to the nation.'
He wrote works of exceptional rank by aesthetic standard, and not just about the death camps. In his essays he wrote about the European dilemmas of all but seven decades, about the political and cultural atmosphere of Hungary, about what always preoccupies great writers: about the splitting of souls, the mentality of the community, about humanity’s alienation from itself.
He accomplished what he has dedicated his long life to.
He recognized his environment and knew himself. In a country where people flee from self-examination, he dared to look himself in the eye. In a world in which market-oriented sensations rule, even as the celebrations carry on he dares look in the eye the expropriation of the fatelessness which his fate has become. He calls it his clown nature.
He bears his illness sagely, dumb incomprehension at his words with difficulty, sometimes taking offence. He has won the right. The sentiments are his sentiments, the experiences his experiences. His sarcasm is a gloss on the world.
I am writing these lines on a vineyard hillside. Behind me are the basalt organ pipes of Badacsony, before me the cone of Gulács, in the distance the basin of Tapolca. Thirty-seven years ago, Imre, this is the spot on which we stood. It is incredible to think where you have reached from literary incognito back then. You tolerated and wrote down not only what went on in the long-bygone past, but also since then, in the altered historical past.
You enjoyed yourself here, on the hillside. What else can I wish you, if it had any reality, but the same now as well.
This article was originally published in Hungarian at Litera.hu, as part of a series of reflections by Hungarian writers and critics on a recent interview in Die Zeit with Kertész. (The interview is not available online, see our coverage.)
Translated by: Tim Wilkinson