Damn you, vonderful Noorster! You gave me a book that I hate and love at the same time. Passionately! Writing anything after reading Fatelessness is like playing the piano after hearing a Vladimir Horowitz recital. How dare I? But I am not Horowitz, I am not Kertész, I am Savtadotty and this is my blog, so I must.
I have never read a book like this…it doesn't tell, it doesn't show, it doesn't sound, it absolutely is the subject: the first-hand experiences of a teenage Hungarian boy in the concentration camps, mostly autobiographical. It accomplishes what Edward R. Murrow wanted to accomplish with his work: you are there. The Wilkinson English translation is good (recommended over the other one). Even without a sense of the Hungarian language, you can feel the formality and courtesy of the world the boy had been immersed in before he was rounded up and packed off. Even his callow adolescent arrogance comes through loud and clear, and is transformed as his narration progresses. To call it a bildungsroman would be a distortion: the young man is growing up even as society around him disintegrates. He's more like Atlas holding up the universe, the statue in front of Rockefeller Center.
How Kertész managed to do it - to stay or to become so honest - may be attributable to pure stubbornness. A stubborn adherence to his own life, to the steps that he persisted in taking, one after another. I wonder what would such stubbornness have done without something dreadful to react against? Even Auschwitz couldn't win over it. Certainly Communism didn't. He was tested and the test was found wanting. The Nobel Prize is small potatoes in the face of what Kertész has accomplished.
If you read only one book for the rest of your life, let it be this one. Slowly. I recommend one page a day for the next nine months, and at the end you may give birth to a new self. And don't worry if you feel some morning-sickness during the first trimester.
Note: if you haven't already read Kertész's 2002 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, just do it.