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Kaddish For A Child Not Born
(Imre Kertesz)

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The complete review's Opinion
A Hungarian Jew (but never one who felt very Jewish), teenager Imre Kertész was rounded up in 1944 and sent to concentration camps in Auschwitz (briefly), Buchenwald, and Zeitz. It is these experiences that are the foundation of all his writing, casting their long shadow over it. Coupled with his experiences in totalitarian Hungary -- a life still far from free -- his books are among the ultimate reflections of the consequences of the two great failed experiments of the 20th century, fascism and Soviet-style communism.
Working mainly as a translator (of literary and philosophical texts), Kertesz shows great care with language -- and surprising versatility. Fatelessness is deliberately straightforward, while later texts circle back within themselves in Thomas Bernhard-like reflections. The stark humility and the generous (and often surprising) gentle humour found throughout his works stand in contrast to much of the bitter Holocaust literature -- though Kertesz books are ultimately no less sharp or resonant for that.
Only a limited number of Kertesz works are available in English translation as of 2004, making it difficulty to fully appreciate his range and talents; nevertheless, what little there is is -- in the new Tim Wilkinson translations! -- Well worth seeking out.

Special mention must be made of the translation issues surrounding Kertesz's works. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002 only two titles were available in English, Fateless and Kaddish for a child not born, both translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson (and published by Northwestern University Press). Only in 2004 were these replaced by the Tim Wilkinson translations (published by Vintage in the US), under the titles Fatelessness and Kaddish for an Unborn Child.
In a profile by Dylan Foley in The Journal News (7 November 2004), Kertesz has his say about the original situation:
I really tried to protest against the first translations, but I found complete rejection, Kertész says. The publisher (Northwestern University) was not willing to do new translations. It was a really bad feeling. It was as if you had a very sane character who has a rendezvous with the reader and the person who shows up is basically a real jerk, with a stammer, bad breath and a foul mouth.

The first translators did their own inaccurate interpretations of his work. The translators didn't understand what I wrote about, says Kertész, still cringing. The radical nature of my words was something that estranged them. They thought in the interest of the reader, they would make the text more human, to round it off and chisel it a bit.
As to Wilkinson's efforts, Kertesz is enthusiastic: I got carried away with Tim Wilkinson's new translations (.....) I'm extremely overjoyed.
Kertesz's works obviously are not easy to translate: the Germans also had to take a second stab at Fatelessness to get it right (translations appeared in 1990 and 1996), and in World Literature Today (Fall/1993) Clara Gyorgyey reported of the Wilson translation of Fateless:



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