NOVELIST and Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész with his wife in Budapest, where he was born.
Kertész is the first Hungarian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which will be awarded to him "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history", as the Swedish Academy stated in its announcement.
Originally published in 1975, Fateless is based on Kertész' experiences during the Holocaust and is one of his most-acclaimed books. Before the Nobel Prize ceremony The Slovak Spectator spoke to Pošová about her current work on the translation of Fateless, her relationship with Kertész' writing and her memories of Slovakia.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How did you get to work on the translation of Kertész' book Fateless?
Kateřina Pošová (KP): By chance. Let me explain. I am a translator and an interpreter, but for many years I have been translating [only] texts related to film: subtitles, scripts, articles. I have written reviews of Hungarian movies, interviewed actors and directors and so on. I have also translated Hungarian plays. I rarely translate fiction, maybe two or three novels and some short stories for magazines. I didn't have time for much else, not even for a systematic reading of Hungarian fiction. So when the Slovart publishing house approached me to see if I would translate Kertész' book Fateless, I knew nothing about this book or its author.
KATEŘINA Pošová translated Kertész's Fateless into Czech.
photo: Johana Pošová
TSS: What does the book mean for you personally?
KP: The book has touched me in all its aspects. To translate the book was the most demanding, most tormenting but also most beautiful work of my life.
Once I started reading it, it completely overwhelmed me. It was my own story! Kertész was born in November 1929, and I was born in April 1930. We were both deported to Auschwitz in the beginning of the summer of 1944, he from Budapest and I from Košice (which was Hungarian from 1938 until 1945). The difference was that he was deported alone and more or less by accident, and I was deported together with my parents on the last transport vehicle from Košice. The hero of Kertész's book saw his father for the last time when [his father] left for the work camp; I didn't even have time to say goodbye to my father after we arrived in Auschwitz. He probably died in one of the 'death marches' at the very end of the war. [Kertész's hero's] mother stayed in Budapest, because deportations were not as rigorous there, but my mom was killed in August 1944 in the camp Riga-Kaiserwald, to which we were transferred from Auschwitz. And last but not least, like Kertész's hero, I didn't know anything about my Jewishness. It was a fact I was aware of, but nothing more. We didn't keep any traditions, didn't celebrate any Jewish holidays. [I only learned about] Friday night - the beginning of Shabbat - from films after the end of the war.
TSS: You live and work in Prague but where do you and your family come from?
KP: My father was born in 1893 and raised in the small village of Šarišské Lúky, close to Prešov and my mother was born in 1904 and grew up in Kežmarok. When they married in 1924, they settled in Košice, where I grew up. I was born in Kežmarok, under unfortunate circumstances, a day after the sudden death of my grandfather, my mother's father.
TSS: How would you characterise Kertész's style and language? In the Slovak translation that I read, the language was very simple and yet it often seemed very unlikely that these were the memories of a child.
KP: I have to admit that if I hadn't written a diary at the age of 14 and 15 in the camp, in the form of letters to my father, I would probably have doubted that such a young boy wrote it. At that time we were the children of educated - let's say intellectual - Jewish families, and probably mature for our age. We encountered things that children of that age normally don't experience. And it wasn't just concrete events; it was the atmosphere that permeated our lives, the discussions our parents had with their relatives and friends. [That's why] I think that Kertész's style is absolutely authentic.
TSS: How do you think Kertész succeeded in 'describing the indescribable', as holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel put it?
KP: Kertész' hero is an intelligent and curious boy with an extraordinary ability to perceive details. Thanks to that he can describe people, the setting or a situation in a particular way, very precisely, in a very realistic, almost naturalistic way and above all, [it is] non-sentimental. His style in Hungarian is peculiar - with an unusual syntax, which doesn't respect the rules of grammar. To me his style is a mixture of spontaneous thoughts, memories and spoken language. But I would like to emphasise that the most important thing is his non-sentimental objectiveness that is without self-pity and without too much pain, and doesn't try to move the readers. I think that Kertész has succeeded fully in 'describing the indescribable'.
But you don't have to take my opinion and my impression literally because - as you surely understand - I am not objective. For me, Kertész didn't have to describe anything.
Imre Kertész was born in Budapest on November 9, 1929. He is of Jewish descent. In 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz and from there to Buchenwald, from where he was liberated in 1945. On his return to Hungary he worked from 1948 for a Budapest newspaper, Világosság, but was dismissed in 1951 when it adopted the party line. After two years of military service he has since supported himself as an independent writer and translator of German authors such as Nietzsche, Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler, Freud, Roth, Wittgenstein and Canetti, who have all influenced his own writing.
Works in English: Fateless (1992) and Kaddish for a Child Not Born (1997).
9. Dec 2002 at 0:00 | Saša Petrášová