Kaddish for a Child Not Born Characters

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Kaddish for a Child Not Born Summary & Study Guide Description

Kaddish for a Child Not Born Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography on Kaddish for a Child Not Born by Imre Kertész.


The boy is the son of the narrator's ex-wife, from her second marriage. He and his sister appear at the end of the novel, and he is described by the narrator as “stubborn ... [w]ith hard eyes like grayish blue pebbles.”

The Diri

The Diri is the director of the boarding school that the narrator attends from age five to ten. He is a short man with a large belly, yellowish-white mustache, and long white hair. His students call him the Plug behind his back. The Diri controls the school with strict authority and fear. He is rarely seen by the students except during the occasional outburst of misbehavior and at Saturday afternoon rapports. The Diri is ultimately killed in the Nazi concentration camp gas chambers during the Holocaust.


The narrator meets the woman who becomes his wife at a party where she is impressed with his opinions and with his writing. She is ten years younger than he is, and he describes her as “a beautiful Jewess” with shiny, thick hair. Born after Auschwitz, she has only experienced the Holocaust as history. She is very troubled by her Jewishness which she feels was forced upon her since she is not religious and does not take part in Jewish culture. This issue is especially troubling to her because anti-Semitism is still rampant in Europe after the end of World War II.

She and the narrator are lovers first. Even early in their marriage they are happy together, and she hopes to inspire and influence the narrator's writing as well as his own healing from the Holocaust. The narrator realizes belatedly that he and his writing thrive on pain. He does not want to heal and this fact drives the couple apart. She wishes to live and for her that means marriage and children. She meets a Gentile, falls in love, and leaves the narrator for this other man.

The narrator's ex-wife is a dermatologist. She chose to go into medicine after her mother died young from a mysterious and incurable illness that she contracted while at Auschwitz. After the narrator and his wife divorce, they continue to meet in cafés where she writes him prescriptions for drugs that keep him relaxed and happy. This ongoing relationship gives the impression that theirs was not a bitter divorce. At the end of the novel, she brings her children from her second marriage, a girl and a boy, to meet her ex-husband in a café.


The narrator's parents are divorced by the time he is five years old and his mother disappears permanently from his life at that point. He attends a boarding school from age five until he is ten years old. After he turns ten, his father takes over his education. During this time the narrator discovers how different he and his father are and how complicated their relationship is. He does not believe in or accept his father's authority and pities him that he cannot truly exert the authority he assumes he has. The narrator believes that he loves his father but also feels that his love is not sufficient.


The girl is the daughter of the narrator's ex-wife, from her second marriage. She and her brother appear at the end of the novel and she is described by the narrator as “dark-eyed ... with pale dots of scattered freckles around her ... nose.”


The narrator of Kaddish for a Child Not Born is a middle-aged Hungarian Jew who has survived the Holocaust. Survival has cost him a normal life. He is nihilistic (believes life is senseless and useless) and keeps to himself and his writing. His writing is his way of not existing in the real world, of digging the grave that was begun for him in Auschwitz. He cherishes this writing-as-grave-digging as his life work, grim as it is.

Over the course of the novel, he recalls his unhappy childhood: his parents' divorce, and his five years in a boarding school. His father assumes authority over the child traditionally given to adults and parents, but the narrator sees through this facade of power, anticipates his father's lectures, and generally pities the man. His mother is never mentioned.

At fourteen the narrator is sent to Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald concentration camps. A year later, when Buchenwald is liberated by the Allies, he returns to Józsefváros, a district near the heart of Budapest where he grew up. He works as a literary translator and writer but is not an insider to the preferred circles of the Hungarian literature scene. He rents a pre-fab apartment and owns very few possessions, mostly books. He is married for a short time but his wife leaves him after he reveals to her that he will not father a child for her. His childhood and the Holocaust predispose him against having children. The narrator says that he cannot be god to another human being.

Dr. Oblath

Dr. Oblath, a professor of philosophy, stays at the same resort as the narrator, near the Central Mountains. At the beginning of the novel they meet by chance in the woods. The narrator describes him as “a man bursting with inappropriate vitality” with “a face resembling soft dough, kneaded and already risen.”

Dr. Oblath regrets that he and his wife do not have children. Dr. Oblath then asks the narrator if he has a child. This seemingly simple question is the catalyst for the stream-of-consciousness monologue (a rambling story that emerges from the natural sequence of thoughts in the narrator) that makes up Kaddish for a Child Not Born.


During the winter he is imprisoned the narrator meets the Professor, a skinny man, starving from inadequate nutrition and suffering from hard labor, on a carriage transport for the sick. The Professor makes sure the narrator, who is ill and lying down, receives his portion rather than keeping it for himself. This small action saves the narrator's life and probably further jeopardizes the Professor's survival. The narrator regards his action as irrational since human nature drives one toward survival, and the Professor's behavior is counter to his own survival. What is even more significant is the Professor's disgust at the narrator's amazement. When he sees the look on the narrator's face, he says “Well, what did you expect ... ?” For the Professor, civility and compassion are more essential for survival than his body's need for food.


See Ex-Wife

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