the guardian Sat 17 January 2009
What would you say if your son told you he wanted to devote his life to overthrowing your country's dictator? Federigo Salinas - a department store owner wealthy enough to be insulated from the worst excesses of a fictional South American regime - chooses a response that puts both himself and his son Enrique in the fist of the secret police in this wry and bleak novella. Kertész, a former concentration camp inmate who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2002, tells his story from the perspective not of the victims, but of a member of the secret police. Narrator Antonio Martens claims not to regret his crimes, but does his best to wriggle out of them. He talks of the state's inexorable weight, of his thuggish, antisemitic colleague Rodriguez and their boss Diaz, who perches his buttock carefully on his desk before ordering a savage beating or asking a question that drips with ignorance. Flashes of ordinary life mix with descriptions of torture and surveillance in this dreadful, gripping farce, in which the state's blank terror taints everything it touches.