Thursday, November 3, 2011

Detective Story/Imre Kertesz/112 pp.

Antonio Martens was a member of the secret police in a dictatorship in an unspecified Latin American country. Now that the dictator has been overthrown, Martens is in prison facing trial for the torturing and killing he took part in. He asks for paper and pen to write with in his cell, and proceeds to relay the events surrounding the surveillance, torture and death of two prominent members of the nation's society - not as a means of atoning for his misdeeds, but in order to set the record straight on what actually happened and who is really to blame.
The story was difficulty to follow, due to the lack of concrete facts: we never know anything about the country or the government, aside from vague references to Latin America, "The Colonel", etc. An "atrocity" occurs, but the narrator doesn't explain what has happened. One of the torturers has, on his desk, a model of a certain "device" called the Boger swing; the description of the device, and what it is used for, is very vague, and it took me several pages before I realized they were talking about an instrument for torture. Nothing seems to be said outright; the author instead makes hints and vague statements, assuming (as he has his narrator say) that we "already know all about that".
The author, Kertesz, survived the Holocaust, having been imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a youth. There is an obvious correlation between the tactics of the secret police in the novel, and those of the SS during World War II. But there is also a less-evident correlation to the tactics used by intelligence gatherers today - the assumption of guilt followed by the gathering of "evidence" to prove that assumption; the idea that the situation we find ourselves in warrants the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" to prevent an as-yet unnamed "atrocity".

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