Imre Kertesz; Tim Wilkin­son, trans.
  • Review
By – May 16, 2012

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.

Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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