kaddish for a child not born by imre kertesz


speaking about the one thing that saved him (“albeit it saved me for the sake of destruction”), i.e. his work, kertesz writes,

“In those years I recognized my life for what it was: as a fact on the one hand and as a spiritual form on the other, or, more precisely, the spiritual form of the survival instinct that no longer can survive, doesn’t want to survive, and probably is no longer capable of survival, but one that still and because of it all demands its own, that is to say, its own formation like a rounded glass-hard object so that it could continue to exist, no matter why, no matter for whom–for everyone and no one…” (94).

echoing bernhard — whom kertesz has translated — this great and dark autobiographical monologue is one of negation and destruction, which nonetheless (hopelessly) creates. it tells impossible truths with a brazen and an often almost obscene courage, or another way: he writes with a courage so courageous it becomes obscene.

also, to mention: some reviews i read somewhere favored the wilkinson translation over the wilson’s. because of this i picked up both to compare (after starting with the wilson’s)… even if kertesz himself seems to prefer the wilkinson (perhaps because this more recent, post nobel-winning translation is being done by a larger house), the wilson’s was to me the far better translation, much more readable, and one that seemed to capture the book’s bravura and darkness and humor with much more panache. of course i don’t speak hungarian so maybe i’m wrong, but a little research has at least this agreeing opinion from joshua cohen:

Kertész’s early novels exist in two English translations: Tim Wilkinson, a British expatriate in Budapest and translator of both fictions under review, retranslated two books for Knopf that had earlier been translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson and published by Northwestern University Press in the days before the author’s laureate and fame. Kertész himself is said to approve of Wilkinson’s translations, or at least to disapprove of the Wilsons’, telling The Journal News: “I really tried to protest against the first translations, but I found complete rejection. The publisher was not willing to do new translations…”

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury of those of us who care about translation — this is a case of an author having to be saved from himself, or from his enthusiasm at being retranslated, at interest being breathed anew into his work. “Fateless” by the Wilsons is every word as effective as Wilkinson’s “Fatelessness,” and “Kaddish” I would reread in the Northwestern translation (titled “Kaddish for a Child Not Born”)…

If Wilkinson is a good translator, he’s a middling writer. He knows Hungarian, he must, but he hasn’t much art in his native English, which is paramount for a prose as spare as Kertész’s, in which every word, every comma, counts.
from www.forward.com/articles/13167/

find it used or find it at a library

harp & altar #5 now up!


harp & altar #5 has new poetry, fiction, and essays for your recurrent, sweet, sad days… including new fiction from joshua cohen, evelyn hampton, lily hoang, peter markus, bryson newhart and some re(-dis)covered robert walser translations. also: poetry by stephanie anderson, jessica baron, julia cohen, claire donato, elizabeth sanger, peter jay shippy, and g.c. waldrep; patrick morrissey on john taggart and matthew henriksen on anywhere; michael newton’s gallery reviews; and artwork by a.l. steiner + robbinschilds…

Robert Walser
From “Oskar”
He began this strange behavior at a very early age by going his own way and finding such evident pleasure in being alone. In later years he recalled very clearly that nobody had made him aware of such things. All by itself the strange need to be alone and apart had appeared, and was there… Even though it was winter, he would have no heating. He did not want any comforts. Everything around him had to be rough, inhospitable, and miserable. He wanted to bear and endure some thing, and ordered himself to do so. And that, nobody had told him either. All alone he had the idea that it would be good for him to order himself to bear hardship and malice in a friendly and good-hearted manner. He considered himself to be at a kind of upper-level school. He went to university there, as a weird and wild student…

Bryson Newhart
from “Paterfamilias”
After compulsory relocation to Hornville, Misery’s family lived in a skyscraper made of living flesh. The building’s eyes served as windows that were barely transparent, and although it was said that the heavens were out there, no one could see them. The people who lived in the building wore internal helmets injected into their ears by the doorman, who was also a skilled surgeon. On any given day, one was either deaf to the world, or everything was painfully amplified, but it was worth it. The human head was indestructible. When people died, the government shot their heads into the sun…

Evelyn Hampton
From “Discomfort”
While I am talking with him I am also walking, and I’ve lost track of where I am by the time our conversation pauses. Curtains get in the way, obstructing light as clutter obstructs movement. He is not someone I have ever been comfortable with—I can’t recall his name—so I am more aware of my body while I’m walking and intonation while I’m talking than I am when with a familiar person, whose ways of judging me won’t surprise me. It doesn’t help that he’s a back-patter and an arm-grabber, likes to touch while conversing…

at http://www.harpandaltar.com

desert island

the latest issue of lamination colony has a list of various writers’ “sacred texts.” my own fanboy gushes are accounted there, along with lists from blake butler, lily hoang, michael kimball, peter markus, matt bell and many a well-traveled other:


violette leduc


simone de beauvoir on violette leduc’s LA BATARDE:

It is said that the unknown writer no longer exists; anyone, or almost anyone, can get his books published. That is exactly the trouble: mediocrity flourishes; the good seed is choked by the tares. Successs depends, most of the time, on a stroke of luck. And yet even bad luck has its causes. Violette Leduc does not try to please; she doesn’t please; in fact, she alarms people. The titles of her book–L’Asphyxie, L’Affamee, Ravages–are the reverse of cheerful. Leafing through them, you glimpse a world full of sound and fury, where love often bears the name of hate, where a passion for life bursts forth in cries of despair; a world laid waste by loneliness which, seen from afar, looks arid. It is not in fact.

“I am a desert talking to myself,” Violette Leduc wrote to me once. I have encountered beauties beyong reckoning in deserts. And whoever speaks to us from the depths of his loneliness speaks to us of ourselves…”

THE CHANGELING by joy williams


the book doesn’t really begin until the plane trip back home–but a great red herring of an opener had me unprepared for that fact. i thought i was getting into a woman-on-the-run picaresque (like jaimy gordon’s great SHE DROVE WITHOUT STOPPING) but instead slowly realized i was reading a devastating and much more static portraiture of a unique drunk–a depressed mother whose deep-but-unorthodox vision of childhood ripens to rot after she quasi-survives exiting her own.

often beautiful, uneven, and heroically unresolving, THE CHANGELING is indeed a pagan meditation on childhood, with a radical, almost menacing take on its state of innocence: “…obviously it was improper for her to think that a child could offer her any salvation whatsoever. Little children were too innocent to provide salvation. Indeed, little children were always leading their elders right into the teeth of death” (211).

its plot is so organically arisen that it’s hard to call it contrived. it seems more an accident or an inevitability developing naturally from williams’ initial tragic characterization and observations. we meander, but mostly stall. or sink. scene changes are abrupt — by blackout or harsh cut. i think its lack of momentum works particularly well as it dovetails thematically with the aching stillness of pearl’s depression:

“Are you coming with me, Pearl?” Miriam asked.

“Oh goodness,” Pearl said. “It’s too early in the day yet for me to make decisions.” She laughed as though she had been joking (199).

but pearl is an observant drunk–and what gives THE CHANGELING its stature is the frankness of its observations and the back-door way its sentences get at truths:

One of the children farted.

“That was Tracker,” yelped Franny. “Tracker let the Devil out!”

Tracker leapt up, his arms flailing, but Franny danced nimbly out of his range. She was a humorous, coquettish child. She did a cartwheel out of sheer, mocking joy.

Tracker took several steps after her, but it was a movement apparently without threat, for he squatted on the ground abruptly and assumed a peaceful, far-away look… He flopped on his back in the grass.

Tracker was rowdy and probably cruel, but what could Pearl do about that? Sam was an ever-increasing influence on all of them but what could Pearl do about that? She herself was a weak and evil woman. She was evil because she was unbalanced, she mistook appearance for reality, and she was empty as a sucked egg (133).

buy from the publisher or find it at the library.

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