Like Kafka, H.G. Adler was a German-speaking Jewish writer from Prague. About a year ago, Adler’s Panorama was released for the first time in in English (by Peter Filkins); The book is now available in trade paperback (Random House). Adler survived the Holocaust, forced first into Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz, where his wife and mother were murdered in the gas chambers. Panorama is an autobiographical bildungsroman, with its hero, young Josef Kramer, standing in for Adler. While the book clearly works its way into grim territory, the beginning is bucolic and sweet and strange, an account of young Josef at home with his family. There’s a cinematic scope to Adler’s prose – Panorama is a Modernist work, one where the narrative freely dips into its protagonist’s mind. By the bye, W.G. Sebald references Adler in Austerlitz, a book that tries to measure the continental memory of the Holocaust.
Melville House has just published Imre Kertész’s Fiasco, available for the first time in English translation (Tim Wilkinson). Fiasco is the final part of a trilogy, along with Fatelessness and Kaddish for an Unborn Child, that tells the story of the author’s time in the Auschwitz and Bunchenwald concentration camps, and his eventual return to an alien home. When I interviewed Melville House publisher Dennis Loy Johnson last year, he was enthusiastic about the book—
We’re doing another one with Kertész next year, which is a big novel called Fiasco. He wrote a trilogy years ago about his experience in the camps. What was he, fifteen or something, when he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, working in a Nazi factory trying to turn coal into gasoline? And he wrote a novel called Fatelessness about that and another one called Kaddish for an Unborn Child. And Knopf published Kaddish and Fatelessness but they never published Fiasco. So we’re really excited about that.
I haven’t read Fatelessness or Kaddish, but I very much enjoyed Kertész’s novella The Union Jack, and I’ve been enjoying Fiasco as well so far. It’s a strange novel, beginning with a 100 page prologue of sorts detailing “the old boy” (surely Kertész) riffling through a cabinet full of old sketches, half-formed ideas, and old papers in the hopes of generating a new novel, a novel that will save his name from sinking into oblivion—a fate he wishes to avoid for (apparently) purely monetary reasons. This prologue is recursive, full of parenthetical asides, diversions, and a general Kafkaesque anxiety about the narrative proper, the Auschwitz story, I suppose, that I guess will begin with chapter one (on page 119!). Anyway, more to come.