Imre Kertész Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

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The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded today to the Hungarian writer Imre Kertész. The author, whose major themes originate from the time when, as a teenager, he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, has two published works in English: Fateless (Northwestern University Press, 1992) and Kaddish for a Child Not Born (Northwestern University Press, 1997). This year, the Nobel Prize in Literature is worth $1 million.

"My immediate reaction is one of great joy. It means very much to me," Kertész said of the award, as reported by the Associated Press. "There is no awareness of the Holocaust in Hungary. People have not faced up to the Holocaust. I hope that in the light of this recognition, they will face up to it more than until now." Kertész is the first Hungarian to win the award.

In its press announcement, the Swedish Academy said that it awarded the prize to Kertész "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history. In his writing, Imre Kertész explores the possibility of continuing to live and think as an individual in an era in which the subjection of human beings to social forces has become increasingly complete."

Kertész, who is of Jewish descent, was born in Budapest in 1929, and, in 1944, was deported to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald. He was liberated in 1945. The Swedish Academy remarked that his "works return unremittingly to the decisive event in his life: the period spent in Auschwitz, to which he was taken as a teenage boy during the Nazi persecution of Hungary's Jews. For him, Auschwitz is not an exceptional occurrence that like an alien body subsists outside the normal history of Western Europe. It is the ultimate truth about human degradation in modern existence."

The Academy summed up that the "refusal to compromise in Kertész's stance can be perceived clearly in his style, which is reminiscent of a thickset hawthorn hedge, dense and thorny for unsuspecting visitors. But he relieves his readers of the burden of compulsory emotions and inspires a singular freedom of thought."

Presently, of Kertész's 11 books, only two, Fateless and Kaddish for a Child Not Born, are published in English, and both by Northwestern University Press (NUP). Laura Leichum, publicity manager for NUP, said that she was "surprised and thrilled" by the announcement. "Being a small publisher, it's marvelous," she told BTW.

As of press time, NUP still had both Fateless and Kaddish in stock, though "obviously, we're going back to press," Leichum said. "We're going to make some notation on the books that he won the Nobel Prize. We'll work as fast as we can to get more reprinted. I don't know print run [numbers] at this time, though." She noted that, as of yet, she did not know of any plans to publish other works of Kertész. -- David Grogan