The Next Chapter

Joseph Kertes's novel Last Impressions is an ode to his father and his immigrant experience

The Toronto writer, who escaped from Hungary with his family to Canada after the revolution of 1956, talks about writing a novel about his father's lived experiences.
Last Impressions is a novel by Joseph Kertes. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

This segment originally aired on Oct. 31, 2020.

Toronto writer Joseph Kertes is the author of four novels and two children's books. His first novel, Winter Tulips, received the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 1989. In 2010, Kertes made the shortlist for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize for his essay Records. His novel The Afterlife of Stars was a finalist for the 2016 Vine Award. 

The Toronto writer escaped from Hungary with his family to Canada after the revolution of 1956. In his latest novel, Last Impressions, Kertes explores his father's life through the fictional protagonist Zoltan Beck, the head of a family marked by war and tragedy for decades.

He spoke to The Next Chapter about writing Last Impressions.

Larger than life

"My father was an inspiration for this book. He's a larger-than-life character. My two brothers and I often found him very funny because he had this fantastic lack of self-awareness. Yet he was very bright.

My father was an inspiration for this book. He's a larger-than-life character.

"He was the guy who read 10 books a week in English, although he was Hungarian. My father inspired the writing of this book." 

Writing about my father

"This is my seventh published book. When I started this book, my father said to me, 'I hope you're not writing another book about me.' And I said, 'No, of course not.' 

One of the reasons I write is to get deeper into a subject, to revisit a subject or to live those days again — and to go to places I could not have gone in real life, like back to Hungary with my father.

"This book is entirely about him. So it was funny to do. But also there's something really quite sad about him. He had such a sad background, a sad upbringing. And so I wanted to explore that, too. There's an underlying tragedy that I wanted to visit. 

"One of the reasons I write is to get deeper into a subject, to revisit a subject or to live those days again — and to go to places I could not have gone in real life, like back to Hungary with my father." 

Joseph Kertes's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now