Imre Kertész was born in Budapest on November 9, 1929. Of Jewish descent, in 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz and from there to Buchenwald, where he was liberated in 1945. On his return to Hungary he worked for a Budapest newspaper, Világosság, but was dismissed in 1951 when it adopted the Communist party line. After two years of military service he began supporting himself as an independent writer and translator of German-language authors such as Nietzsche, Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler, Freud, Roth, Wittgenstein, and Canetti, who have all had a significant influence on his own writing.
Kertész’s first novel, Fateless, a work based on his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, was published in 1975. “When I am thinking about a new novel, I always think of Auschwitz,” he has said. This does not mean, however, that Fateless is autobiographical in any simple sense: Kertész says himself that he has used the form of the autobiographical novel but that it is not autobiography. Fateless was initially rejected for publication. When published eventually in 1975, it was received with compact silence. Kertész has written about this experience in Fiasco. This novel is normally regarded as the second volume in a trilogy that begins with Fateless and concludes with Kaddish for an Unborn Child, in a title that refers to the Jewish prayer for the dead. In Kaddish for an Unborn Child, the protagonist of Fateless and Fiasco, György Köves, reappears. His Kaddish is said for the child he refuses to beget in a world that permitted the existence of Auschwitz. Other prose works are The pathfinder and The English flag.
Galley diary, a diary in fictional form that covers the years 1961-91, was published in 1992. Chronicle of a metamorphosis continues this inner monologue in the form of notes made during the years 1991-95. After the political upheavals of 1989, Kertész was able to make more public appearances. His lectures and essays have been collected in The holocaust as culture, Moments of silence while the execution squad reloads) and The exiled language.
Imre Kertész received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002 “for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.” His works have been translated into numerous languages, including German, Spanish, French, English, Czech, Russian, Swedish, and Hebrew.