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.