One of my favourite novels is Fateless by Imre Kertész; it tells the story of a Hungarian teenager who is arrested on his way to work and sent to a concentration camp, just like his father. First he’s placed in Auschwitz–Birkenau, he is later moved to Buchenwald and finally to Zeitz. Instead of revolting against the Nazi oppression, the lack of food and water and the gruesome conditions, the narrator, Gyuri, tramps along through life in captivity with a sort of ease, sometimes even admiring the order inside the camp, marvelling at how everything has its place and purpose.
The protagonist creates his own world inside a world, where different rules apply. This way, he becomes something other than a prisoner: despite being held in a concentration camp he gets to define himself and his surroundings.
Fateless is a work of art that I have carried with me since I read it for the first time, as a teenager myself. It was a book that moved me and completely changed the way I looked at the world, and how I saw myself in it. It achieved the most noble thing a story can do for their reader – it provided an opportunity for growth and learning. After reading Kertész’s mezmerising, unforgettable book, I realized I was very much like Gyuri. A person who isn’t willing or strong enough to stand up against violence, someone who spends his time avoiding conflict and the consequences of violence.
My parents were war refugees, and we moved to Finland from Kosovo when I was two years old, in 1992. My childhood was pierced not only by the violence in Kosovo but also by the violence my immigrant family was confronted with in Finland. Growing up, I was often told that Finland was not my real home and that I should go back to where I came from. I rarely defended myself because I didn’t know how, and because I was too scared.
Throughout my childhood I escaped the hostility of the real world by reading books, pretending to be the characters in the stories I consumed because they allowed me access to safety. Fateless inspired and encouraged me to write about victims of violence; it taught me how much strength and courage it takes to speak up for what is right; how awfully scary it really is to rise up and resist your oppressors.
People often accept the violence they confront because they have to. They adjust to being victims of violence because sometimes the fight seems too great, and when it is, they tend to look away. People like this feel the most real to me, the most honest and truthful. I think that is why I’ve written about them in my works, and continue to do so: the fearful ones, the weak and the weakened. The protagonist of Fateless is not a hero because of his actions, he’s a hero because of the power of his thoughts. And that is equally beautiful, and right.
Photograph © Mariusz Cieszewski
Read an excerpt of Pajtim Statovci’s novel Crossing here.