Peter Cassirer, Förintelsen såsom i en skrattspegel – om Imre Kertész Mannen utan öde. (The Holocaust as in a Funny Mirror. On Imre Kertész’ Fateless.)
Imre Kertesz’ novel Fateless (Swedish Mannen utan öde) has often been characterised as depicting life in a concentration camp. But even though the essential part of the story takes place in camps, the novel primarily deals with existential questions about what it means to be Jewish, a question evoked by the persecution of Jews in Hungary during World War II. The uniqueness of the novel lies not only in its questioning of the traditional way of dealing with these problems, but also and above all, the provoking manner in which these questions are posed.
The story is told through the perspective of a fourteen-year-old Jewish boy from Budapest. One may interpret the purpose of the storyteller’s attitude as a way of showing that the events in the novel (which depict what happened in Europe at that time) were truly unbelievable and become believable only in retrospect and only because they did indeed happen.
The title of Imre Kertész’ novel relates to the protagonist’s denial that his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald were the result of his "fate", i.e. the fate of being Jewish. Many of the storyteller’s reflections in dangerous and even life-threatening situations are so strange and unrealistic that the reader does experience them almost as if they were seen in a "funny mirror".
Kertesz’ main æsthetic intent seems to be to challenge the reader by confronting us with our prejudices and questioning these through provocation. The callous, insensitive, sometimes actually shocking manner in which the protagonist tells the events he witnesses, events that must have been indescribably horrible, makes him symbolic of all those who actually were uninterested, uninformed and unengaged during the time of the Holocaust, as well as those who persist in denial that it took place in the first place.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2004. Vol. 125, 172-203 p.