WaPo's Jim Hoagland celebrates Imre Kertesz's Nobel Prize in literature:
- Imre Kertesz is a Holocaust survivor, an East European who was persecuted under communism, a free man since 1989 and this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Who says book critics never get it right?
Sweden's remarkable literary jury has for the second consecutive year held up a mirror to the values and politics of our times while honoring the eternality of great art. It rewards Kertesz "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."
"Barbaric arbitrariness" is much on the mind of this capital city right now: A sniper has been stalking and killing citizens while Congress has been debating going to war against an Arab ruler who once promised to "burn Israel" to the ground, echoing Hitler's determination to destroy Jews wherever he could.
Kertesz's life and work — it is impossible to separate the two in a man who says, "When I am thinking of writing a new novel, I always think of Auschwitz" — cover a much broader stretch of history than our current attempts to deal with a sniper and with a bloodthirsty dictator in Iraq.
But the award serves to remind us how the darkest forces in the human spirit can be chased into retreat, if not total extinction. "The day after" can inspire hope as well as foreboding.
It is now "the day after" in Kertesz's native Hungary and the rest of the former Warsaw Pact. Nations that endured decades of genocidal fascism and brutal Communist rule have established functioning democracies and free-market economies. They have not collapsed into ethnic wars or turned again to black-shirted dictators, as many geostrategists fretted they would once the Cold War ended.
There was a covert racism present in much of that reasoning, just as there is covert racism submerged today in much of the argument over "the day after" in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.