Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fateless by Imre Kertesz

This is a fictional account, but based upon Imre Kertesz's own background. He, like the young fourteen year old protagonist of the book, was incarcerated in a concentration camp as an adolescent.

In Fateless Gyororgy's father was sent off to a concentration camp; however, the way his Hungarian family handled the situation Gyorogy was unaware of the implications of his father's situation. While the family exhibited sadness he seems aloof from the reality. Of course the fact that the family shopped for essentials, including a knapsack, appeared to belie the gravity of being sent to a labor camp.

Not too long after his father's leave-taking Gyorogy and other boys are sent off to Auschwitz and then Buchenwald and then he is sent to Zeitz as a worker. Because he lied about his age he is saved from a sure death. It's difficult to appreciate or fathom the manner in which he adapts to his surroundings. There's a dispassionate tone to his way of seeing what is happening all around him. On the surface it appears that he lacks a compass, a moral stick to measure the baseness of the degradation.

Initially Gyorogy is under the delusion that he'll be working as a laborer. When he first sees the men with their prison striped clothes he wonders about the prisoners, but doesn't understand that he, too, will be issued the same clothing.

Perhaps his reaction to what is happening around him is less about detachment and more about dissembling–or removing himself from the reality by standing off and observing what is happening and acting as an objective observer.

Is it that he becomes inured to the daily humiliations or that by seeing them day by day they become part of an orderly pattern? He displays little outward compassion and when he compares the lean tight bodies of the Nazis to the emaciated prisoners he describes the Jews in less than faltering terms. He had never resented wearing the yellow star, or if he did he didn't react to the star other than liking the pattern.

Over time his body wears down and he, like so many others, does what is necessary to live. That includes allowing someone else to be taken away in his stead. But is also includes not allowing anyone to define him as a victim.

Eventually the war ends and he returns to Budapest where he feels lost and he is unable to relate to others. When he tries to explain how events uncoiled bit by bit —step by step, his listeners recoil from his conclusions. It sounds as if we are all responsible for what has happened and that is too monstrous to contemplate.

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