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Kaddish for an Unborn Child

(The Holocaust)

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,445 ratings  ·  131 reviews
The first word in this mesmerizing novel by the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is “No.” It is how the novel’s narrator, a middle-aged Hungarian-Jewish writer, answers an acquaintance who asks him if he has a child. It is the answer he gave his wife (now ex-wife) years earlier when she told him she wanted one. The loss, longing and regret that haunt the years betw ...more
Paperback, 132 pages
Published November 9th 2004 by Vintage (first published 1990)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Diane S ☔
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Our unnamed writer/translator writes to his unborn child, a child he unequivocally refused to bring into this world, an astounding NO the answer he gave to his then wife when she asked for a child. A man who tries very hard to explain his thoughts, his rationality about his decision to not father a child. A man who had been imprisoned, like the author himself, in Auschwitz which left him with a great deal survivor guilt, and trying to make sense of a world that would allow something like this to ...more
Lee Klein
Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great, short, dense, post-Holocaust novel by Kertész, who probably didn't win the Nobel Prize solely on this one's strength. I've only read his Detective Story (by a different translator) and should soon at least get to Fatelessness, so I'm not sure how this fits among his other novels, but it feels very real as it digresses, loops back on itself, repeats images (a bald woman in a dress in front of a mirror [what he thinks about when he thinks about his so-called Jewishness]; writing as diggin ...more
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
September 2016
Reading this for a second time, now as a group read. The discussion is thought provoking and is enhancing my understanding of the book.
Finished for a second time- there ar a lot of layers to the book. Beautiful and moving writing, and I'll probably read it another time at some stage.

April 2016
I found this book difficult, both emotionally and because its style is complicated. I intend to re-read it at some stage, especially if I can do this as a readalong, so that I have people to d
Seth the Zest
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2012
While I had planned to read only twenty pages today because the books so dense, I found myself so drawn into the book that I had to finish almost all of it in one burst. I realized after a few pages that a paragraph hadn't ended and so I naturally wanted to see when it would so I could put the book down and go do something else. I believe it lasted twenty pages. So I then looked for a logical stopping point but couldn't find one. And one thing led to another and I finished it as if in a dream. T ...more
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a great and dark autobiographical book, speaking impossible truths with brazen and an often almost obscene courage... a courage so courageous it becomes obscene.

echoing bernhard -- whom kertesz has translated -- this is a great monologue of negation and destruction, which nonetheless (hopelessly) creates. 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
Aug 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shoah
This piercing unbroken paragraph novella ups the emotional and philosophical ante concerning the Shoah and leaves only scorched earth and tattered memories in its wake. Throughout the work there a number of nods to Bernhard, whereas Kertesz further gilds the homage to the Austrian with trademark recurrences and stilted rhythms. These circumstances extend beyond, of course. The decision reached is also an imperative, one which still bears considerable weight.
Brandon Prince
Aug 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Kertész is inspired by Thomas Bernhard, but surpasses him. Rarely have the contradictions and unity between domination and freedom been so powerfully realized in a work of fiction. A definitive work of critical holocaust literature, Kaddish draws attention to the tenuous threshold that connects the horrors of Auschwitz to the banal assimilations of everyday life. Absolutely brilliant. One of the greatest books I have ever read.
3 Stars

Dear Mr Kertesz,

This text only passed my eyes because of my uni subject, where it is apart of the curriculum, it probably would've made my TBR otherwise. Your novel Kaddish for an Unborn Child maybe a whopping 160 pages or so, it packs so much into those pages.

My three stars are not because I found this average, but more so there is so much in this text, that I would need to re-read this over and over to gain further understanding and meaning, it is a text that requires to be slowly read
Kris McCracken
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
Kaddish for a Child Not Born by Imre Kertész is one of a series of four novels which examine the life of a man who survives the Nazi concentration camps of World War II.

If Fatelessness offered a relatively conventional narrative approach, Kaddish for an Unborn Child, written fifteen years later, is anything but. It is a difficult novel of repetition and ambiguity, the narrator acknowledging all his uncertainty, and constantly reminding the reader of the difficulty of exact expression. In many re
Samir Rawas Sarayji
Stream-of-consciousness is a beautiful literary technique... when used appropriately. When used inappropriately, it is tedious, superfluous, and (this is a very dangerous 'and') obfuscating. Enter Kertész's Kaddish for an Unborn Child, guilty of all three symptoms. The story premise is interesting enough, which is why I managed to reach halfway through this novella, but there are limits to my patience. I can see no justifiable reason why this style was adopted because at no point do I have the f ...more
Apr 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
There were parts, formally and tonally, that reminded me of Ponge's Soap and Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground. However, the prose in Kaddish feels far less intentional or purposeful than either of those texts it is resembling. While I understand and appreciate what this book is trying to accomplish -- a painfully honest psychological portrait of its author through unmediated stream of consciousness -- for me it falls short aesthetically. The formal structure it seems to be following in th ...more
Jun 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017

A very, very heavy read. Both from the point of view of Kertesz's style and of the subject. A broken man, a very broken Jewish man who had a sad childhood, a tough father, no mother, and if that weren't enough, he is a survivor of Auschwitz. No wonder he cannot fully belong to someone, he cannot love himself, he couldn't love a child. So he writes and pours all his sadness, his hatred, his loneliness, in words. He also spends his time telling his wife what his father, Auschwitz, and life itself
Previous to picking up Imre Kertesz' Kaddish for an Unborn Child for my Around the World in 80 Books challenge, I had read one of his novels, Liquidation, which I bought whilst in Budapest. As with Liquidation, this novella is a meditation on the Holocaust, and also features literary translator B. as its protagonist. In the highly autobiographical Kaddish for an Unborn Child, B. 'addresses the child he couldn't bear to bring into the world, [and] takes readers on a mesmerising, lyrical journey t ...more
This is a pretty amazing book. It is undeniably difficult to read, with extremely long sentences and stream of consciousness narrative. However, the author certainly captured the inner life of a tortured and traumatized Holocaust survivor. The poor man in this book is just trying to get through life, but he has so much horror in his head that works against him, that he can never get away from. It's sad. It's also frightening, because humans did this to each other.

Kertész was awarded the Nobel Pr
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish
To begin with: I'm not a fan of uber-long sentences. They actually drive me mad, more often than not. But I'm glad, very glad indeed, that I kept on reading. Kertész writes with much tenderness and fury and disarming frankness. Definitely a book I'd recommend to anyone who is even remotely interested in literature by Holocaust survivors. Don't let the long sentences put you off reading it. ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-literary
This is a novel of destruction. It is negative. It is tough to read. That being said, it is worth it. The novel is short, and follows the memory of a man explaining to his friend that he can not bring a child into the world given the horrors of the Holocaust, and the fact that the underlying causes of the Holocaust have not been remedied. He is an unhappy and unlucky man – failing in his career and failing in his own marriage. It is a novel of despair.

Kertesz’s style is quite difficult to read.
“No!” I will never forget: Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertész

Abridged version of my review posted on Edith’s Miscellany on 22 November 2013

The Kaddish is the Jewish prayer for the dead. The narrating protagonist writes his Kaddish for an Unborn Child or to be precise for a son or daughter who could have been, but never even was conceived because he always refused to bring children into a world in which Auschwitz, Buchenwald and concentrations camps like them had been possible. It’s the
Dara Salley
Feb 23, 2011 rated it liked it
This short novel takes place entirely inside the nervous, active mind of its narrator. The stream of consciousness that we are privy to is prompted by a question posed by a philosopher-acquaintance on an artistic retreat. He asks the narrator if he has any children. This leads to a long chain of thought that encompasses the narrator’s history, philosophy and love life. He describes why his answer to that question is difficult.

This book was written as one long stream of consciousness. There are n
Krocht Ehlundovič
Uf, a tough book, author style, content, problem which is narrated by a main character (two times divorced man without children) and... Well, I was shocked a little bit by his style - very long sentences (one or two page´s long sentences) - this reminded me the modern novel wave (J. Joyce), then the content of those sentences - "yes-no" ideas, like the author would talk to you without preparation and concept (just apparently) and directly - so I had to be very focused and concentrated, plus lost ...more
Ashish Thakur
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the toughest book I have read till date. At the beginning, the book quotes from a poem of Paul Celan. That was surprising because I had read a few poems of his before and I never thought I would encounter Celan's poem in a book.

I can't say I have been able to distil the core theme of this book. At best, I was able to assimilate the book in parts rather than the whole. I found the second half much more tractable than the first and the last four pages were beautiful.

The sentences are too
Feb 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-school, abandoned
I don't get what's going on ...more
Jerry Pogan
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
The story is about a survivor of Auschwitz who tells why he refused to bring a child into this world. In the story he also talks about his failed marriage and failed career. Kertesz wrote this in long meandering sentences with constant asides and asides from these asides. His sentences also seemed to be layered one upon another, almost as if he were stacking them, building up tension before coming to the point he was making. It was an interesting writing style that added emphasis to his topic bu ...more
Oct 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of art
Kaddish for an Unborn Child is truly worthy of its esteem, and Imre Kertesz is absolutely worthy of his Nobel Prize. I read the Wilkinson translation, unaware that there was another translation available. Now that I know it has been translated before, I am curious to see for myself how they differ in language, poetics and style.

I found the Wilkinson translation haunting, musical with a unique rhythm to its words. How do you describe something that is so perfectly beautiful? The stream-of-conscio
David Hendrickson
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very strange book. It is a stream of consciousness prose poem that is tentatively set up as a message to an unborn child. Not to a child who has not been carried to term but a child who was never conceived. But the concern of the writer is more about the trauma of his childhood, his internment at Auschwitz, his work and his failed marriage.
The style of the monologue, because I don’t think this is a story, is repetitive and very poetic. I am not familiar with the Jewish reciting of the
Farhan Khalid
May 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, nobel, war, european, novel
No! I said instantly without hesitation

Since it has become quite natural by now that our instincts should act contrary to our instincts


There is no getting around explanations

We are constantly explaining and excusing ourselves

Life itself, that inexplicable complex of being and feeling, demands explanations of us

Those around us demands explanations

In the end we ourselves demand explanations of ourselves

Until in the end we succeed in annihilating everything around us

In other words expla
Oct 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: ww2 lit afficianados, philosophy buffs
Recommended to Kirsten by: Rowan Tepper
This is basically a 95 page rant. The style is very lyrical and manic. Even in my head it's hard to read the words without going at a fervent pace.

The subject matter itself deals with divorce, being a survivor of Auschwitz, the collapse of his marriage, and not wanting to carry on the lineage of the damaged Jew.(Which is not to say that I think every Jewish person is damaged. I'm speaking more of the people who have felt the aftershock of Nazism.) A subject that was touched upon, one that I have
Jul 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
Calling this a novel is a bit of an overstatement ... or an inaccuracy, as overstatement implies that it is something less than a novel, or that it is (was) brought about as an attempt to create a novel, or that it is a novel in miniature. It is none of this. A monologue, 90 some pages, less circuitous than proceeding by fits and starts ... or by refinements constantly rethought, negated, and re-offered. It says very little, says it very precisely, and worries myriad possibilities in arriving at ...more
Nandini Pradeep J
Jan 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Where Auschwitz is not merely a chapter in human history; it's a psychological frame of mind, "a cerebral mode of existence."

It plays with your mind's claustrophobia as well as the sense of freedom, questioning every notion you hold close to your heart.

The paternal figure becomes the symbol of H. himself and by giving life to a progeny, he feels that he'd be H., he'd be that paternal figure himself. Which is where his "No." resounds thunderously, repeatedly.

It's like getting wound continuously
Jul 03, 2008 rated it liked it
This isn't quite stream-of-consciousness writing, but is pretty close. I don't know if that's Kertesz' style or if it's the effect of translation. It's not a quick read for being such a short text. The author refers to Fatelessness (or I think he does anyway) and many similar ideas are expressed. The idea of explaining oneself to his or her unborn children why they weren't born is a very uncomfortable notion if you really think about it. "I was too busy for you" seems pretty feeble compared to " ...more
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Born in Budapest in 1929, Imre Kertész was imprisoned during the Second-World-War at Auschwitz in 1944, and then at Bunchenwald concentration camp. After the war and repatriation, the Soviet seizure of Hungary ended Kertész's brief career as a journalist. He turned to translation, specializing in German language works, and later emigrated to Berlin. Kertész was awarded the Nobel Prize for literatu ...more

Other books in the series

The Holocaust (4 books)
  • Fatelessness
  • Fiasco
  • Liquidation

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