David's Reviews > Fiasco

Fiasco by Imre Kertész
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Apr 06, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

In the hazily autobiographical novel Fiasco, Imre Kertész describes the return of his surrogate-protagonist György Köves from the German concentration camps after World War II to his native Hungary, now a communist satellite state. To be sure, Kertész incurs more than a small debt to Kafka here, as the bewildered Köves is suddenly immersed in an irrational society beholden to shifting and unintelligible rules—but that debt is commensurate with the pay-off because Kertész does long-form Kafka better than Kafka ever did. Kafka’s worlds were hollow-feeling, abstract—which lent to a sense of alienation and strangeness, sure, but the worlds they described were correspondingly insubstantial. Kertész, by way of contrast, creates a more inhabited, relevant world for his readers.

Fiasco is a strange book. It opens with a hundred-twenty-page section that is neither a preface nor an introduction. It’s both part of the novel and distinct from the novel—an apology for, perhaps, or shaky explanation of the narrative which is to follow. A writer (though he declines the title) putters around his apartment in present-day (1980s) Budapest feeling compelled to write another novel after his previous novel (Kertész’s Fatelessness) is rejected by publishers, but lacking a clear objective. Why should he write? Why should anyone write? Do writers write to entertain, to inform, to gratify their egos, to exhume the depths of their hearts and minds? He fumbles for an answer, finding none of them entirely satisfying. And he recalls his previous effort—the novel about Köves’s experiences in the concentration camps—and its utter failure. The writer rereads the harsh rejection letter in his files. But was the novel really a failure? Does one write only to be published?

Eventually, in a sort of blind momentum, he begins the new novel—this novel Fiasco which then becomes informed by the author’s earlier musings on writing. The writer writes a novel about Köves, who himself becomes a writer—but accidentally. Through some sort of bureaucratic error, Köves returns home to discover he has been discharged as a writer for a newspaper, a job he never occupied. This mistake, like many such mistakes in life, determines his fate, for lack of a better motivation.

Fiasco is not an easy novel to read. The beginning section is written in a scrupulously overdetailed style, emphasizing banality itself, and the sentences are long, winding, and occasionally difficult to follow. The novel-within-the-novel is written in a more generous style, but it remains cagey and elliptical. At times we’re not quite sure if only we the readers are confused about this world Kertész has created or if Köves shares our disorientation. In fact, Köves becomes assimilated faster than I did—which is as it should be. From a distance of a few steps behind Köves, we can watch him adapt and become integrated into this disturbingly irrational society.

Side Note: Melville House (publishers of Fiasco) has some of the worst proofreaders in the publishing industry. Or else it has no proofreaders at all. Get your act together, Melville! These are some sloppy books you’re putting out!
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Mike (new)

Mike Puma Another compelling review; I'm >< close to adding it. You're right about MH, recent experience with Zambra's Bonsai made me wonder if even MS Word wouldn't clean up their act.


message 2: by David (last edited Apr 06, 2012 08:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Thanks, Mike!

I read one of MH's recent Heinrich Böll reissues that had a lot of mistakes too. I just don't get it. These are fairly obvious mistakes...


message 3: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Have you taken the proofreading issue up with Charles? Better yet, are they hiring?


David He doesn't work there anymore, apparently.


message 5: by Szplug (last edited Apr 06, 2012 11:11AM) (new)

Szplug Damn, I love the way you write, David K.

With that said, and in an effort to balance praise with criticism, let me add that, while I am aware of being in full stone-chucking-in-glass-house mode even as I post this, that scrunched-visage profile pic is a tough one to glom on to. Each time it pops up anew, I kind of shrink away from the screen.


David Thanks! Coming from you, Sastre, that's a tremendous compliment!

(I almost didn't recognize you, by the way. You have a comment on your profile dating back to April 4th. Two days ago. That's bananas, man! Bananas!)


message 7: by Szplug (last edited Apr 06, 2012 11:33AM) (new)

Szplug I'm almost giddy! Shan's a nice guy and perhaps unaware of my severe profile spartanism—I plan to quietly liquidate them after a suitable interval has passed.


David With that said, and in an effort to balance praise with criticism, let me add that, while I am aware of being in full stone-chucking-in-glass-house mode even as I post this, that scrunched-visage profile pic is a tough one to glom on to. Each time it pops up anew, I kind of shrink away from the screen.

I just saw this sneaky addition! I really feel scrunched-up right now, so this profile picture is just right. I like when it takes extra effort to glom onto me; that's what separates true friends from casual or fair weather glommers.


message 9: by Szplug (new)

Szplug Yes, you respond to comments so quickly that I've got to learn to insert those sneaky additions with a touch more adroitness. But you did change your pic, and I am very down with this vaguely Star of Bethlehem/Star upon a Beirut Ghetto Xmas Tree image presumably pinched from an intriguingly named band that I've otherwise never heard of. Thanks!


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