Each country has its well-known and loved literary characters whose essence is deeply connected to the identity of a nation or region. This exhibition is about those characters, introducing the fictional world, authors and cultural surrounding of smaller European states. Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg are represented with their literary characters. Learn about the project


Gyuri Köves

Man Child

Gyuri Köves – is a fourteen-year-old secondary school student in Budapest. His parents are divorced and he feels he belongs to nowhere. Although he is of Jewish origin he feels like a stranger among the Jews because he speaks no Hebrew. He is a Jew among the Hungarians and a non-Jew among the Jews.

The novel starts with his father being drafted to forced labour. He stays with his stepmother and works in a war factory. He is deported to Auschwitz on a summer day. He lies about his age at the selection of the prisoners, so he is not sent to a gas chamber. He is transported to Buchenwald, where he becomes seriously ill due to hard work and starvation. He survives and gets back home to Budapest to realise that this is the hardest to survive since he is no longer one of the more than half a million Hungarian citizens, Jews or declared to be Jews, who would never return home.

He does not revolt against his fate. He is not infuriated, he does not moralise, does not come to conclusions about the state of the world. He accepts everything dispassionately with resignation and naivity. His personality changes enormously by the end of the developmental novel. He becomes an independent person who is able to act, who does not hide his opinion and at the end of the novel answers the question what he feels about the city he has abandoned saying: “Hatred”.


Imre Kertész

Imre Kertész

Budapest, 1929.11. 09

won the Nobel Prize for Literature (2002) for his work written in Hungarian. With this act he became the most acclaimed Hungarian writer though he identified himself as part of Central European (especially the former territory of Austria–Hungary) Jewish literature. As a teenager he was taken to Auschwitz then Buchenwald because of his Jewish origin. He took his school leaving exam in 1948. He became a journalist at Világosság (Clarity) in Budapest, but when the paper became loyal to the Communist Party he was dismissed. Then he was a factory worker, and later communication assistant at the Ministry of Heavy Industry. Since 1953 he has been a freelance writer.

His first novel (Fateless [1992], Fatelessness [2004]) based on his experiences in the concentration camp had been written for 13 years and was published in 1975. The Auschwitz trauma and consequently the problem of interminable history are in the focus of his thoughts in his other novels and essays. He was awarded the Kossuth Prize and became more and more popular abroad, especially in his chosen country of residence, Germany. The screenplay of Fateless was written by him and the movie directed by Lajos Koltai was shot in 2005. He translated lots of German-language theoretical works and essays into Hungarian (Freud, Nietzsche, Hoffmannstahl, Joseph Roth, Canetti, Schnitzler, Wittgenstein). In November 2012 he declared that he wouldn’t write anything else. He has entrusted his oeuvre collected in the Kertész Archive to the Berlin Academy of Arts.


Imre Kertész was known for a long time as a journalist and librettist of musical comedies. Although his Fatelessness, finished in 1973, was discussed by some critics it was rejected by a publishing house and was eventually published only two years later. Nonetheless, the Hungarian reading public did not have any reactions to it or to his whole oeuvre.

As he confessed in some interviews he could only express the negative experiences of a totalitarian state adequately much later when as an adult he had to face the reality of another dictatorship, namely the Kádár-regime. His works were translated in the 1990’s first into German then to English and as a result of his popularity abroad he became more and more popular in Hungary, too. Yet, it’s quite impossible to assign his role in the Hungarian literature. His whole oeuvre deals with the Holocaust of the Hungarian Jews in profound depth and quality, which is a recurrent theme of Ernő Szép’s The Smell of Humans (1945), Béla Zsolt’s Nine Suitcases (1946), Mária Ember’s Hairpin Bend (1974), György Somlyó’s Ramp (1984) and György Konrád’s A Guest In My Own CountryA Hungarian Life (2001, 2007)

In world literature his experiences can be compared to the works of Jorge Semprún (The Long Voyage), Jean Améry, Tadeusz Borowski, Primo Levi, or the Nobel Peace Prize winning Elie Wiesel. He was influenced by Franz Kafka’s writing style and Albert Camus’s The Stranger.

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