A review of

Detective Story

by Imre Kertész

Central question: Is evil contagious?
Format: 128 pp., cloth; Size: 8" x 5"; Price: $21.00; Publisher: Knopf; Editor: Carol Janeway; Print run: 15,000; Cover design: John Gall; Typeface: Glatfelter; Translated from the Hungarian by: Tim Wilkinson; Author is recipient of: 2002 Nobel Prize in Literature; Authors Kertész has translated into Hungarian: Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein; Number of years author spent in concentration camps: one; Number of times his first book was rejected: one; Representative sentence: “As far as we were concerned, his fate was sealed even if he himself had not yet made up his mind.”

In 1975, thirty years after his liberation from a concentration camp, the Hungarian author Imre Kertész published his first novel, Sorstalanság, which has been translated into English as both Fateless and Fatelessness. Whichever you prefer—I like Fatelessness, personally—it’s one of those destined-to-be-a-classic books against which everything else he writes, including Liquidation, Kaddish for an Unborn Child, and his newly translated Detective Story, will forever be contrasted. That it took him three decades to compose his masterpiece and so matter-of-factly describe a Holocaust-era childhood should come as no surprise. But what can any artist really say about our greatest human atrocities that isn’t self-evident? Both Fatelessness and Detective Story reveal that the answer, for Kertész, has something to do with fate—and the lack thereof. The fact that some among us are capable of such atrocities indicates to Kertész that we, as a whole race, have forsaken the divine. God hasn’t abandoned us, we’ve abandoned God, and in doing so we have, at least temporarily, lost our fates.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Andrew Ervin

Andrew Ervin lives in Champaign, Illinois.

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