Chapter 1 Summary
Fatelessness is set in Hungary in the midst of the Holocaust and the Second World War. When the novel begins, Georg Koves (Gyuri) explains to his teacher that his father has asked him to stay home from school. The teacher sends him home. Gyuri’s father is about to be sent away for “labor service,” and this is Gyuri’s last chance to spend time with him. However, his father spends the day at his shop, which Gyuri soon begins to find a bit boring. Eventually he grows so bored that he passes the time by going outside to relieve himself and then washing his hands. Gyuri's father gives over control of the shop to his assistant, Mr. Sütõ, because the latter is “completely aboveboard regarding his race” and will be allowed to run the business. Mr. Sütõ offers to write a receipt, but Gyuri’s father insists that there is no need for such things between the two of them.
Gyuri’s stepmother has a list of the things his father will need in the labor camp. She has procured most of the items at this point, and is tracking down the things that are still missing. Gyuri notes that he feels odd walking around in a group of three, all wearing the yellow stars, but they nevertheless go about buying the necessary items. Most of the shops are quite busy, but there is a lot of room in the shop where they buy the knapsack. Gyuri notices that the shopkeeper is quite nice, but that he tries to avoid having to use the word labor service and instead refers to items that will be useful “where he is going.”
Back at home, Gyuri runs into Annamarie, a girl who lives in the same building. Annamarie, Gyuri notes, is like him, “fourteen years old, or thereabouts.” She invites him to play rummy after supper with her and her sisters, but Gyuri declines the invitation when he remembers that his father is soon to leave. Instead, he returns home, where his stepmother has made supper. Gyuri’s father refuses to eat more than his share of food, claiming that he is not hungry, and Gyuri follows his example. Afterward, they are visited by their extended family, who have come to see Gyuri’s father off. Uncle Willie, who used to be a journalist, claims that he has heard from a confidential source that there is going to be an improvement in their position because of secret negotiations between the Germans and the Allied Powers. It is his belief that the Germans have begun to realize the usefulness of the Jews living in Budapest, Hungary. Another relative suggests that Gyuri is about to share in “shared Jewish fate” of persecution.
The next day, Gyuri’s father leaves, and he tells Gyuri to stay by his stepmother’s side now that he has left. Gyuri reflects that “at least we were able to send him off to the labor camp, poor man, with memories of a nice day."
Chapter 2 Summary
Two months have passed since Gyuri’s father was sent to the labor camp. Summer has arrived, as have new laws limiting the freedoms of the Jews in Hungary. Gyuri has been assigned to work at the Shell Petroleum Refinery Works in Csepel. Gyuri sees the assignment as a sort of privilege, since anyone wearing the yellow star that identifies Jews is not allowed to leave city limits. This work assignment will actually allow Gyuri more freedom than many members of his family, and his stepmother is happy that the work papers will allow him to justify to the guards his existence because he is contributing to the war effort. It is manual labor, but Gyuri does not mind passing the time with his friends. His specific work is to repair damage to the oil works, which are a frequent target of the air raids.
Gyuri is still in contact with his family. His father sends letters from the labor camp. He has maintained his good health and is being treated decently. The family is reassured by the letters, and Gyuri’s uncle, Willie, argues that they must now wait for the Allied Powers to finish the war against the Germans. Life is not easy for the Jewish family, but Mr. Sütõ stays true to the promise he made...
(The entire section is 4,436 words.)