Thursday, February 07, 2008


I am currently on a roll of experimenting with European tragedy. After Roth's disillusioned hero, I am now meeting the alienated, fate-less anti-heroes of Bernhard's Frost and Kertesz's Liquidation. Though Frost, with all its density of thought and observation will take me sometime, I was able to get through the slim volume of Liquidation soon enough, with ease.

Liquidation was a good read, my one complaint with it being the introduction of a narrative structure within it, and then a complete abandoning of that that structure mid-way. Had it been a simple assortment of thoughts and recollections, without that ambitious and un-natural structure of a play within the novel, it would have perhaps been a far superior work, or more sincere.

Characteristic of Kertesz, the work is based in Auschwitz, and though none of the events in the plot happen there, the whole story rings around that one horrific word/place/planet. We find a set of characters haunted by Auschwitz and leading a life that is a kind of death. The main character B., born in Auschwitz, carries on with his life as a self-inflicted torture, a punishment and also a rebellion against the perpetrator of the holocaust, and accepts evil as the core of the world. And his bitterness, if that's a word we can use to characterize his perception, seems perfectly justified when we imagine the holocaust horrors. Kertesz being a camp survivor himself, must know this feeling of hopelessness firsthand, at least in some bleak moments of reliving the tragedy.

The narrative structure is slightly flawed - we meet a character Kingbitter, who is supposed to be that invisible, slightly hidden narrator that we meet in a Sebald or Bernhard, but this narrator refuses to be in the shadows, and even in a small book that already has a tough task ahead of it, he manages to dedicate many pages to himself, forcing himself in every aspect of B.'s life, including an affair with his wife and then his mistress. This intrusion, sometimes was annoying, at other times it explained Kingbitter's anxiousness to tell B.'s story, but if I had to take sides, I would say he should have stayed behind as the editor instead of trying to take the limelight.

A Village Voice review of the book can be found here. The reviewer sums up the book succinctly when he says:
Liquidation is at its core a book about writing, about trying to tell stories that resist being told. "Man may live like a worm," Kingbitter insists, "but he writes like a god," which, sometimes at least, in flashes, is enough.


Alok said...

I hope these guys are not making you feel like jumping out of the terrace.. haha just joking. Frost is characteristically bleak but not as tightly structured as his later work but still I think a very good introduction to a truly unique writer. He is one of my favourites.

About Liquidation, I actually loved the structure of the story, at least in its conception and the way it implicitly approaches the question of the meaning of writing and literature after holocaust and what it means to see the world through Holocaust-scarred prism of experience. I just wanted Kertesz to stick with the narrative a little more. It was too minimalistic. I also wanted to read it again, this time a bit more closely since it was so condensed.

Madhuri said...

Oh yes, I do feel like jumping off the roof and the only reason I am still alive is that I don't live on a penthouse, there are no balconies in Bombay and all my windows are grilled! :)
I did not like the structure of this book particularly because it was quarter-baked. I don't think that it was taken through its intended course, and so it looked like an immature creative writing experiment. Had Kertesz chose either the play structure or the structure of (un-)writing B.'s story by Kingbitter, it would perhaps have been great.

The Prophet Of Frivolity said...


Whatever few moments I spent on this blog revealed in amazing vividness the pitiable range of my reading. I decided to visit this page every now and then: to remind myself of this barely bearable truth.

Thank you.