Liquidation--Imre Kertész

I've posted excerpts from Liquidation over the past few days, and now comes the time to make some estimation of the book as a whole.  It's very difficult to do, not because I don't know how I feel about it, but because it is difficult not to gush and enthuse.

I don't know enough about Mr.Kertész's opus to say whether this is a major or minor work in it.  Regardless, it is a major work of lliterature and one that parades a seemingly endless set of influences and patterns throughout. 

B., a writer and a translator and one of the rare few born in Auschwitz/Birkenau and surviving to adulthood commits suicide.  Those he has worked with, his ex-wife, his lover, and those closest to him (although I'm not certain that any one of these people could be called a friend) are affected by this in different ways.  The protagonist of the book Kingbitter is searching for a lost manuscript that he is certain exists.  Much of the book is told in the form of a clairvoyant play in which B reveals what happens several weeks, months, and perhaps years after his death.  The story is convoluted and keeps returning to a moment when the main characters are discovering that the publishing firm with which they are working is llikely to be liquidated. Each return to this central moments peels back layers of narrative and reveals yet another facet of the connections between people and with B. Each recursion adds depth to the narrative and twists it ever so slightly.  While Kingbitter is the main speaker throughout, narrative focus shifts to Judit, B.'s ex-wife, and to other characters along the way.

The structure is dazzling and disorienting.  There were moments when I was certain that I was in an Ionesco play, to whom brief hommage is played in the course of the narrative. But what am I to say in sum about the whole book?  Despite its shortness, there is such a wealth of material in and through it, that it becomes impossible to define it and summarize it.  It speaks to the delicate webs of interconnections between one person and his or her acquaintances and how these are never really made manifest--even in death.  It speaks to the difficulty of living with knowledge and the futility of any other choice. It speaks of Auschwitz and other atrocities, but not in the way one would expect.  And it speaks ultimately and mysteriously of love--whether mockingly or with a straight face, it is up to the reader to determine.

The depth of this short (130 pages) novel is astounding.  Imre Kertész is one of those writers for whom we should thank the Swedish Academy.  Their choice of him as a Nobel laureate is certainly merited if this short work is any indication. 

*****--Highest recommendation

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