This accomplished novel by the late Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész, and translated from the original Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson, takes on the epic subject matter of historical burdens and draws upon the author’s Holocaust experiences and subsequent return to Hungary during the Soviet take-over. The delightfully perceptive and mentally anguished narrator rediscovers his old novel, which had never before seen publication. What follows is the reader’s rich journey into a labyrinthine account of various pasts, in which a complex protagonist willfully falls into fits of insanity in order to escape the duty of working with military prisoners in the Hungarian army. Similar to the overall project of living and writing, all of the characters in this tale-within-a-tale contribute to the ongoing work of art that we hold in our hands.
At turns Beckett, Kafka, and Kundera-esque, Fiasco originally and surprisingly represents the postwar years in Eastern Europe as a chaos of stories that, much like the Holocaust itself, at once demands and at the same time refuses closure or hyper-rationality. Likewise, the very notion of survival takes fascinating shape, tone, and scope through the day-to-day wanderings of a character through the haunting streets of his childhood home. Ultimately, this lyrical opus reveals civilization to be a moral experiment: an experiment in which only a recognition of the absurd can set one free from absurdity’s confines.
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