János Gosztonyi: Zsákpapirok (Working Title „Sack Paper") Novel, 269 pages (Hungary, 2009)
What did János Gosztonyi write on paper retrieved from bags of cement? A novel, his memoirs, a diary, or perhaps an absurd story? In “Zsákpapirok” the author seeks to bear witness to the horrors that he experienced in the concentration camp Dachau and that he survived against all odds.
Born in 1926, Gosztonyi is one of the few living survivors of Dachau to tell of his experiences in an authentic and literary voice. Daniel Goldschmidt is a poor boy from a good family. He admires the Germans and cannot imagine that they were capable of such terrible deeds; yet when what they were openly advocating became action, he begins to fight for his life. In 1944, in Dachau, the goal was to prevent having to experiencing yet another day. But Daniel had a different goal: to survive the next minute, for out of minutes could be formed larger units of time, and thus could one get through the whole disaster.
He fought for every tiny advantage, those for which a free person wouldn’t bend a finger. After unimaginable mental and bodily suffering, Daniel is freed at the end of the war. As soon as he is released from the concentration camp, he is again a suspect: “My friend, the class struggle is in full swing, and again you are on the wrong side,” is what he hears. While his life in Communist Hungary is not immediately threatened, his honor is. Since in the world of the brownshirts, morality was not valued, he now seeks to live an ethical life. The whole situation is constructed in such a way that it cannot work. In Communist Hungary, one can life a halfway normal life only through dishonesty, lying, and hypocrisy.
In the concentration camp it was bodily fever that saved him from perishing; now it is the fever of the creative work of an artist that keeps him from going under. As an actor and playwright he has initial success, and again from time to time. It is family that represents refuge for Daniel. It requires of him pragmatism and selflessness.
Gosztonyi has written an extraordinarily moving book. Through irony and wordplay and a feeling for slapstick he often brings the reader to laughter even to the scenes of horror. He has succeeded in expanding the scope of the “Holocaust novel” through his description of the deportation of Jews returning to Hungary after the war.
Excerpts from reviews:
“Zsákpapirok” is a harrowing novel about the will to survive. Even after Kertész and Semprun, Gosztonyi has something new to say about the horrors of the concentration camps. (Tisztelet Újság)
János Gosztonyi writes about one of the most inhuman chapters in history humanely, and often with biting irony… “Zsákpapirok” has no happy Hollywood ending, but ends in the ever more unbearable Socialist existence. (Index Forum)
The tension and unimaginable suffering can be borne only because of Gosztonyi’s sarcasm and wordplay. That is great literature. On account of a reinvigorated Hungarian neo-Nazism this book has a painful currentness. (Szakszervezeti Hiradó)
Kritiken / Reviews:
reviews still to come
More works of this writer:
Életálmok ("Dreams of Life")
<-- János Gosztonyi