'Fatelessness' is a translation of 2002 Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz's arguably most acclaimed piece of work. The book is a seemingly quasi- autobiographical account of a 14- year old Hungarian Jew's life during the Holocaust. It traces the journey of the unassuming and carefree Georg, who, for no fault of his own, ends up inside a train to Auschwitz. Life then takes him further on to the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Zeitz. How the boy holds himself together and finally makes it back home is the plot of this disturbing yet thoroughly engaging book.
The Holocaust stories, now told and retold several times through different media, may not be new to you. What is however amazing about this book is the way the author recounts his experiences in a factual and almost stoic manner. He has done away with melodrama, and at times seems to recite his story with the sole purpose of documenting a phase of his life that is, to the outside observer, so difficult to surmise, to comprehend, that it borders on mythical. This almost detached rendering of everyday struggle in the concentration camps makes the saga all the more heart- breaking. The style is laudable as well. I didn't think it was possible to write prose in a way that is simplistic, but also complex, all at the same time. Yet, here is a sample. Some sentences have to be read several times over in order to fully grasp what the writer is trying to convey. During the course of Georg's story, one comes across several interesting reflections (some will set you thinking), that are extremely quotable. One of my favourites is, 'I would never have believed it, yet it is a positive fact that nowhere is a certain discipline, a certain exemplariness, I might even say virtue, in one's conduct of life as obviously important as it is in captivity.'
The incidents towards the end of the book are equally compelling. For instance, Georg's conflict with his uncles on the approach he should take towards his future, or his inability to convince them that what he wants most is not to forget the past, but to accept it as part of his destiny, perhaps even learn from it, to remember and appreciate his resilience, his perseverance, his optimism, his will to survive. Georg's unshakable faith in reason was perhaps what kept him sane and gave him the strength to battle adversities and pull through at the end. There is great irony reflected in the fact that Georg probably wasn't even qualified for a concentration camp; a Jew by birth but not by choice, who cannot even understand Yiddish, who is not the least religious, was punished for a heritage he did not choose for himself.
There is a lot to learn from this book. Kertesz's message is one of perseverance, never to give up on life. And to find purpose and consequently happiness, in whatever life brings your way. You need to choose to be happy, to be happy. He also mentions fleetingly, through his protagonist, how we make our own destiny. What we choose, the decisions we take, how we conduct ourselves and how strong we are, decide what kind of life we eventually receive. This book is about surviving all odds, purely by virtue of one's strength of character, and coming out triumphant.