Hungarian-Jewish Nobel Literature Prize winner dies aged 86

(AFP) Hungary's only Nobel Literature Prize winner, Imre Kertesz, died aged 86 early Thursday in Budapest after a long illness, his publisher said.  

The Holocaust survivor, who won the Nobel in 2002, passed away at his home, the director of Magveto Publishing, Krisztian Nyary, told AFP.

"He was one of the 20th century's most influential Hungarian writers, not just through his works but through his thoughts and worldview as well. He will remain hugely influential on other writers in years to come," Nyary said.

In 2013, Kertesz revealed that he was battling Parkinson's disease.

The son of Jewish parents, Kertesz was born on November 29, 1929 in Budapest. At the age of 14, he was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, before being sent to Buchenwald.

Following the liberation of the camps, Kertesz returned to the Hungarian capital. He began working as a journalist for a newspaper in 1948 until he was fired three years later when the daily was taken over by the Communist regime.

The Holocaust remained a central theme in several of his best-known works, including his first novel "Fatelessness".

Published in 1975, the story describes the ordeal of a fifteen-year-old boy in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Zeitz.

Despite the apparent autobiographical links, Kertesz rejected the idea that the book was about his own life, but rather a critique of all totalitarian regimes.

'Auschwitz is everywhere'

He revealed he was particularly interested in "what happens to language and people among totalitarian dictatorships".  

"I wrote about the Holocaust because it was a unique experience, I had to live through such a defining experience of the 20th century, and I survived it. But I wrote novels, not Holocaust literature," he told German newspaper Die Zeit in 2009.

The Holocaust reached far beyond personal experiences, Kertesz insisted – it touched all of humanity and represented a complete break with civilization.

"Auschwitz is everywhere," Kertesz said in 2013 in an interview with the Paris Review literary magazine.

Faced with rigid censorship in communist Hungary, it took Kertesz no less than 13 years to write the book, admitting that he struggled to find "a structure, a frame in which words can come to life".

"Fatelessness" went almost unnoticed in Hungary when it was published.

"In a dictatorship, ignorance and impotence keeps everyone in a childlike state," Kertesz observed.

He started translating famous German works into Hungarian and would not publish another novel until the late 1980s when he released "Fiasco".  

Kertesz eventually turned his back on Budapest and moved in 2001 to Berlin where he lived with his wife, until he returned to Hungary in 2013 because of his illness.

In 2002, the Nobel Prize committee awarded Kertesz the highest literary accolade for "writing that upholds fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history".


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