Fateless

Fateless

Book - 1992
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Winner, 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature
One of Publishers Weekly's Fifty Best Books of 1992

Fateless is a moving and disturbing novel about a Hungarian Jewish boy's experiences in German concentration camps and his attempts to reconcile himself to those experiences after the war. Upon his return to his native Budapest still clad in his striped prison clothes, fourteen-year-old George Koves senses the indifference, even hostility, of people on the street. His former neighbors and friends urge him to put the ordeal out of his mind, while a sympathetic journalist refers to the camps as "the lowest circle of hell." The boy can relate to neither cliche and is left to ponder the meaning of his experience alone.

George's response to his experience is curiously ambivalent. In the camps he tries to adjust to his ever-worsening situation by imputing human motives to his inhumane captors. By imposing his logic--that of a bright, sensitive, though in many ways ordinary teenager - he maintains a precarious semblance of normalcy. Once freed, he must contend with the "banality of evil" to which he has become accustomed: when asked why he uses words like "naturally," "undeniably," and "without question" to describe the most horrendous of experiences, he responds, "In the concentration camp it was natural." Without emotional or spiritual ties to his Jewish heritage and rejected by his country, he ultimately comes to the conclusion that neither his Hungarianness nor his Jewishness was really at the heart of his fate: rather, there are only "given situations, and within these, further givens."
Publisher: Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, 1992.
ISBN: 9780810110496
0810110490
Branch Call Number: FIC Kerté 3583tc 1
Characteristics: 191 p.

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DWIGHT A GREEN
Mar 11, 2016

The novel opens as the father of fourteen-year-old Georg Koves prepares to leave for a labor camp. The family’s business and valuables are transferred to a non-Jewish employee while the family gathers to say goodbye to Georg’s father. A few months later, while travelling to his imposed job, Georg and other Jews are pulled off their busses and herded to a train station. An odyssey of sorts follows as Georg lives in and travels between Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Zeitz (a labor subcamp of Buchewald). After the liberation of the camps, Georg returns to Budapest where people make varying demands on him, whether it’s asking him to broadcast his experience to the world or put it all behind him and carry on as if it didn’t happen.

part of the power of the novel lies in its final pages when Georg returns home. It’s hard to tell what Georg dislikes most, the journalist who wants him to share is story (he’s already said that the totality of a man’s knowledge cannot comprehend a concentration camp unless you have endured it) or the defensive, well-meaning relatives who advise him to move on with his life. I think this is another reason he mentions the golden hour in the camps for which he was homesick—the experience shaped him and became part of him. To deny what has happened would be to deny who he is. His return to Budapest reinforces his fate in the most common meaning: some people help him, some ignore him, and others torment him. He doesn’t fault the last two groups, ascribing a humaneness to them that probably doesn’t exist, by noting they couldn’t possibly understand him.

The depiction of Georg’s experience in the concentration camps is the centerpiece of the book, but the moving part of this narration lies in the number of times Georg ascribes a genuine humanity to his persecutors. The message that keeps coming through, though, is that Georg's experience in the camp can be documented but not adequately communicated unless you have been through it. Highly recommended.

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