Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Kaddish for a Child Not Born is an answer to a question. The answer—“No!”—appears again and again. The question, “do you have a child?” seems harmless, but it invokes difficult memories and problems for B. The novella is presented as a reflection on the question and B.’s related memories, compiled from notes just as communism is ending in Hungary and channeled as a stream-of-consciousness response to the question by the narrator.

Imre Kertész received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002; he was the first Hungarian to do so. The Nobel announcement particularly cited a trilogy comprising Sorstalanság (1975; Fateless, 1992; also as Fatelessness, 2004), A kudarc (1988; fiasco), and Kaddish for a Child Not Born. The announcement portrayed these books as shining examples of maintaining individual thought in a time when people are subjugated. Kertész was the first Holocaust writer to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature; Elie Wiesel received the Peace Prize in 1986. Kertész’s work is beginning to be translated into English and to be used pedagogically, alongside Wiesel’s Un di Velt hot geshvign (1956; Night, 1960), Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo (1947; If This Is a Man, 1959; revised as Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity, 1961), and other standards of Holocaust literature.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, and raised in a secular family, Kertész was deported to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944, when he was a fifteen-year-old student. He was selected for survival and work and then, as the war ended, was marched across Europe to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. The camp was liberated in May, 1945. Kertész returned to Budapest and began work as a journalist, but he lost his job in 1951. Under the Hungarian communist regime, he worked as a German-Hungarian translator. He began writing in the 1960’s, but the repressive government prevented him from publishing until the 1970’s.

All of Kertész’s work is about the Holocaust. In his acceptance speech before the Nobel committee, he said that the Holocaust, as a break in civilization, is present in all postwar European...

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