“Auto-da-Fé” is the story of Peter Kien, a distinguished, reclusive sinologist living in Vienna between the wars. With masterly precision, Canetti reveals Kien’s character, displaying the flawed personal relationships which ultimately lead to his destruction.
Manipulated by his illiterate and grasping housekeeper, Therese, who has tricked him into marriage, and Benedikt Pfaff, a brutish concierge, Kien is forced out of his apartment – which houses his great library and one true passion – and into the underworld of the city. In this purgatory he is guided by a chess-playing dwarf of evil propensities, until he is eventually restored to his home. But on his return he is visited by his brother, an eminent psychiatrist who, by an error of diagnosis, precipitates the final crisis…
“Auto-da-Fé” was first published in Germany in 1935 as “Die Blendung” (“The Blinding” or “Bedazzlement”) and later in Britain in 1947, where the publisher noted Canetti as a ‘writer of strongly individual genius, which may prove influential’, an observation borne out when the author was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. “Auto-da-Fé” still towers as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, and Canetti’s incisive vision of an insular man battling agianst the outside world is as fresh and rewarding today as when first it appeared in print.