Book rants, raves, & (w)rite-ups.

I often wonder what’s it like to be a Jew – Fatelessness by Imre Kertész

Five, Fatelessness

Five, Fatelessness

Already, I’m halfway through this, and the day I started it isn’t over yet. Technically, it’s over, but I just felt that I had to take a little break and put this down. I’d like to follow the advice at the back cover, although not totally given that I am way behind my reading, which is to read this book slowly to explore all the subtlety and details, which will allow me to appreciate it more.

And at the pace I am going, which is faster than my regular pace, I already like this novel. The narrator of this novel, Georg Koves, talks matter-of-factly, wringing out all the sentimentality and yet, a unfolding a huge backdrop of drama if you take second looks at his sentences. I feel that he is the Hungarian version of Holden Caulfield, although less inclined to whining and bickering about phoniness, because Georg has bigger issues to face than that: how to survive in this world as a Jew.

I don’t really understand what is it about the Jews that makes other people feel hatred toward them. I don’t think there are local Jews here in my country, which is my perfect excuse for not knowing where this hatred is rooted. After all, as one of the characters in the novel says, it’s just a religion, which is not something one can choose out of his own volition at the instant of birth. One is reared into one, and if one wants to stick with it until the end of his life, then it’s his choice.

And that amazes me, because despite the persecution, despite the segregation, the Jews, at least the Jews of the mid-1900′s, held on to it, claiming the difficulties to be the cross that they have to bear, and dutifully wearing whatever insignia, in this novel’s case a yellow star pinned conspicuously to the clothes that they are wearing, to announce that they are Jews, drawing out hatred from others. Not everyone though, and I sort of understand how hard it is to deal with spiteful people who know nothing better than to demean others on the basis of, say race. I should know, because being a person of uhm, abnormal sexuality, I have my own share of people’s mockeries just on that sole basis.

But still, they wonder about it. Of course, they do. They are not stupid people to not feel the different treatment that they receive. What if the tables were turned?

What could have happened to her, let’s say in very early infancy, when a person is not yet able to speak or remember, it didn’t matter how, but suppose she had somehow been swapped or got mixed up with a child from another family whose documents were in perfect order from a racial point of view. In this hypothetical case it would now be the other girl who would perceive the difference and of course wear the yellow star, whereas she, in view of what she knew, would see herself-as of course would others-as being exactly like other people, and she would neither think about nor recognize any difference. As far as I could tell, that had quite an impact on her. At first she merely fell silent, then very slowly, but with a softness I felt as almost palpable, her lips parted as if she were wishing to say something. That was not what happened, however, but something else, much odder: she burst into tears. She buried her head in the angle of her elbow, which was resting on the table, her shoulders shaken by tiny jerks. I was utterly amazed, as that had not been my aim at all, and anyway the sight in itself threw me somehow. I tried leaning over to pat her hair, shoulder, and a bit on her arm, begging her not to cry. But she exclaimed bitterly, in a voice that choked as it went on, something along the lines that if our own qualities had nothing to do with it, then it was all pure chance, and if she could be someone else than the person she was forced to be, then “the whole thing has no sense,” and that notion, in her opinion, “is unbearable.”

I wonder if the fourteen-year old kids of this generation still manage to talk this way. Anyway, I couldn’t agree more. It is an annoying thought, and it’s just another proof that justice can never be attained because at the instant of your birth, injustice is served by being placed in the wrong family, country, race, et al. If all is left to fate, we should all just drift with the current, no?

And yet, the title baffles me. Why is it Fatelessness? What does it imply? That the protagonist doesn’t have a fate? That his experiences are merely a series of strange events? That it is not fate that dictated the course of his life, that it is still ultimately his choices that led him through it? I’m only halfway through, and already, a lot of life’s fundamental questions are bothering me.

Date Started: February 11, 2012. 3:30 PM. Book #06 of 2012.

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