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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, April 15, 2016

A Holocaust novel with a unique perspective - Fateless

Started Imre Kertesz's first novel, Fateless, from 1975, a late-life debut (he was 45) and prelude to a Nobel - his novel is one of the many memoir-like first-person accounts of the horrors of World War II - with the twist that the experience is that of a young man, 15 years old, a Hungarian Jew, and as we see the events unfolding we are pained as we have so much more knowledge and perspective than he has. In most of the other Holocaust novels (and memoirs) that I'm familiar w/ the narrator knows precisely the horrible fate in store for him (or her) yet lives to tell the tale. This novel - the title says it all - he has no idea of his fate: as a young man he and other Jews are pulled from school in Budapest and assigned to a work detail at a nearby petroleum facility, and the narrator thinks that's just fine - it's hard work but he enjoys being with a gang of guys and doesn't seem to mind especially being pulled from school. His father - we see in the first chapter - was also seized and sent on a work detail, and the first chapter involves a lot of machinations to give the family lumber business to a non-Jew to manage while the father is "away" - they're very glad to have done so, but we know how that will work out. Similarly, one day the boys are stopped on the highway on the way to the work detail and, over the course of a few days, put on a boxcar with hundreds of others, mostly (but not all) young men, being sent to an important, secret work location - turns out to be Auschwitz (none had ever heard of this place) and as the narrator and his co-workers, along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of others are incorporated into the camp they only very gradually begin to understand what's happening: what happened to all the elderly and infirm, the women and younger children, who were on the box car with them? What's with the mysterious interest in any sets of twins? The writing is so simple and stark and naive that it just adds to the horror, echoes the truly bizarre need for orderliness and proper record-keeping that was somehow innate to the Nazi mentality - and has secured their place in history and in the darkest circles of hell.

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