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Liquidation by Imre Kertész

Imre Kertész is an Auschwitz survivor. It seems, without alluding to this fact, the book is about being a survivor. Liquidation, his first novel since winning the Nobel prize in 2002, is basically a fictionalised argument that after Auschwitz, fiction is an unworthy pursuit.

Having said all that, Liquidation is a philosophical and cerebral novel. Perhaps not an ideal read for my current state of mind which is constantly thinking about the next project and impatient to get on to the next task. But I love Budapest and especially interested to read a book which is written by a Hungarian author and a Nobel Prize Laureate.

Ten years have passed since the fall of Communism. B, a writer of great repute – whose birth and survival in Auschwitz defied all probability – has taken his own life. His friend Kingbitter discovers among his papers a play entitled Liquidation, in which he reads an eerie foretelling of the personal and political crises that he and B’s other friends now face.

Kingbitter’s find precipitates a frantic search for the novel that Bee may or may not have left behind. That B was having an affair with Sarah, behind his wife Judit’s back and we soon found out Judit is having an affair behind B’s back with now husband Adam. While Kingbitter himself was having an affair with B’s ex-wife Judit.

The love affairs seems to give this novel a facetious air but there is nothing facetious about Liquidation; it aims to induce in us the same state of despair that obviously afflicted Kertész when he wrote it, but through the characters, depicts how surviving a tragedy such as the Holocaust could scar a person for life. This is particularly brilliantly described by Judit’s life with B. As B spent his time reading and writing, and writing and reading away, B is incapable of love and incapable of building close relationship with other human being and it’s not a pleasant thing to be his wife either.

I had no desire, no goal, I didn’t wish to die but I didn’t care to live either. It was a peculiar condition but, in its singular way, not unpleasant. – Kingbitter page 111

The novel has a little mystery in it. A renowned author and Auschwitzsurvivor, has just committed suicide, and his old friend and literary editor Kingbitter embarks on a search for a missing manuscript, the great man’s crowning achievement, the novel which will finally make sense of the Holocaust. Who has possession of this literary Grail? Sarah, B’s ex-lover? Judit, B’s ex-wife? And what are we to make of the fact that one of B’s extant works, a play likewise called Liquidation, uncannily predicts the action of the book we’re reading? Not much, to be honest.

We are living in an age of disaster; each of us is a carrier of disaster, so there is a need for a particular art of living for us to survive. Disaster man has no fate, no qualities, no characters. …For him there can be no return to some center of Self, a solid and irrefutable self-certainty; in other words, he is lost, in the most authentic sense of word. – page 55

Except for a few inspiring quotation or two, I thought the book was pretty bland. The book is written in a form of extended meditations from Kingbitter and Judit, which I thought Judit’s meditation was a better read, despite Kingbitter takes up most of the book.

The power of the book, as a Guardian review keenly observed is that: “Kertész keeps talking, keeps returning to the impassioned late-night dialogues that permit perennially suicidal intellectuals to live through to another morning. B’s suicide letter is tremendously poignant because we sense that it is the letter Kertész himself might have written, had he not been brave enough to go on. Judit’s account of her clash of wills with B over the nihilism that Auschwitz supposedly demands, and the dignity with which she declares “I wish to see the world as a place where it is possible to live”, are highlights of a book that should perhaps be read as a work of philosophy rather than fiction.”  (emphasis are mine).

And that’s the way to look at it and work out if you would want to pick this book up or not.


Hardback. Publisher: Harvill Secker 2003, 2006 translated edition; Length: 130 pages; Setting: Budapest, Hungary. Source: Reading Library copy. Finished reading at: 26th May 2012. Translated from Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson.

About the writer:

Imre Kertész (born 9 November 1929) is a Hungarian Jewish author, Holocaust concentration camp survivor, and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Literature, “for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history”. Born in Budapest, Hungary, he resides in Berlin with his wife.

During World War II, Kertész was deported at the age of 14 with other Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and was later sent to Buchenwald. His best-known work, Fatelessness (Sorstalanság), describes the experience of 15-year-old György (George) Köves in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwaldand Zeitz. Some have interpreted the book as quasi-autobiographical, but the author disavows a strong biographical connection. In 2005, a film based on the novel, for which he wrote the script, was made in Hungary. Although sharing the same title, the film is more autobiographical than the book: it was released internationally at various dates in 2005 and 2006.

Imre Kertész won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


11 thoughts on “Liquidation by Imre Kertész

  1. Interesting to see you are reading this, I am slow reading Primo Levi’s If This is a Man:The Truce who was an Italian Auschwitz survivor, his book is a quiet, humbling account of his survival and observations beneath the surface of events, and the second half is about his return home.

    Sometimes in the midst of the mad pace all around us, I find a book like this to be a good influence and I find this author has one of those human spirits that is safe and good and wise to be with and listen to, he found a way through and shares it.

    Interesting to read your review, it doesn’t seem to have the same sensibility, maybe not now, but if you ever wish to revisit the subject and haven’t read his book already, I would definitely recommend Primo Levi.

    Happy to have found your blog Jo 🙂

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | May 27, 2012, 6:23 am
    • Claire,
      I have heard of Primo Levi but hasn’t got the chance to read his book. Seems like If This is a Man:The Truce should be the place to start. I would really really like to read Levi’s book. I’m grateful to stumble upon your blog too! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | May 27, 2012, 7:09 am
  2. Your elegant post makes me a bit sad that few people now have any interest in this history. One can actually graduate from college and not know who even fought in WWII.

    Posted by Mel u | May 27, 2012, 8:50 am
    • Mel U,
      Seriously?! I think history is great. We learnt from our history and make sure that we do not repeat past mistakes. You are right to say that many don’t know history, that’s why we kept making the mistakes again and again, throughout the centuries. 😦

      Thanks for dropping by and compliment.

      Posted by JoV | May 27, 2012, 8:58 am
  3. Hi JoV!
    I gifted my father this novel on his birthday last year. He says he found it haunting, and keeps telling me to read it. Your review convinced me to give it a try. It sounds beautiful.

    Posted by Amritorupa Kanjilal | May 29, 2012, 4:03 am
  4. Have you read his book Fatelessness? I grabbed it from the library about five years ago and had to return it before I could read it.

    Posted by maphead | May 30, 2012, 1:21 am


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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