Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Historical

The Afterlife of Stars

by (author) Joseph Kertes

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2014
Historical, Cultural Heritage, Siblings
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2014
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


 In the waning months of 1956, while Russian tanks roll into the public squares of Budapest to crush the Hungarian Revolution, brothers Robert and Attila Beck flee with their family to the Paris townhouse of their great-aunt Hermina. As they travel through minefields both real and imagined, Robert and Attila grapple with sibling rivalry, family secrets, and incalculable loss to arrive at a place they thought they’d lost forever: home.


In beautifully crafted writing that burns with intensity and humour, Joseph Kertes explores displacement and uncertainty in a dark time from the perspective of two boys filled with wonder at the world around them.

About the author

Joseph Kertes founded Humber College's Creative Writing and Comedy Programs. He was until recently Humber's Dean of Creative and Performing Arts and is a recipient of numerous awards for teaching and innovation. His first novel, Winter Tulips, won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Boardwalk, his second novel, and two children's books, The Gift and The Red Corduroy Shirt, met with critical acclaim. His novel, Gratitude, won a Canadian National Jewish Book Award and the U.S. National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His latest novel, The Afterlife of Stars, has been described by Miriam Toews as his "masterpiece" and was named a notable book by the NY Times Book Review. Kertes is the 2017 recipient of the Harbourfront Festival Prize.

Joseph Kertes' profile page


  • Short-listed, Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature

Editorial Reviews

“Devastating yet unnervingly’s not every writer who can render a scene like this with such verisimilitude so many years after the fact....What is clear―and unquestionably lucky for us―is that Kertes’s memories survived his own family’s flight to Canada and have found expression in this inspired and deeply affecting novel. ‘I’m not asking for a story for the ages,’ Robert tells his Aunt Hermina. ‘I’m asking what happened to you.’ Kertes has given us both.” ―Julie Orringer, New York Times Book Review
The Afterlife of Stars is Joseph Kertes’s masterpiece. Robert Beck, the young narrator, is absolutely captivating (and very funny!) as he takes us along on his terrifying journey.” ―Miriam Toews, two-time Giller Prize finalist for All My Puny Sorrows and A Complicated Kindness
The Afterlife of Stars moved me more than any other novel Ive read in recent memory. It hypnotizes. It delights. It shines on every page with a quiet, implacable, blanketing beauty-like a snowfall. Beyond all else, The Afterlife of Stars reaches into your chest and takes hold of your heart and does not let go, not even after the last page is turned. The Afterlife of Stars keeps shining on. What an exquisite novel.” ―Tim O’Brien, National Book Award-winning author of The Things They Carried
“The Afterlife of Stars is tender in its evocation of fierceness and wrenching in its rendering of two brothers’ hunger to penetrate both the wonders and the awful secrets of a world that always seems just out of reach. It’s memorably sad and surprisingly funny on the elusiveness of home and the intensity of family bonds.” ―Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron
“We meet the Beck brothers at the very moment history lays its claim on them. Their bond is sure to become one of literature’s great and sustaining relationships. Joseph Kertes writes with tremendous love for the idiosyncratic and passionate loyalties of family. With masterly concision, he expresses the trauma of an era. This is a book of remarkable scope and depth; unforgettable and deeply moving.” ―Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
The Afterlife of Stars blazes with every single good thing that a work of fiction ever does or could do. It is brilliant. Radiant.” ―Richard Bausch, PEN/Malamud Award-winning author of Peace
Agony, humor, and a boy’s bewilderment and wonder coalesce in this glittering novel. Joseph Kertes evokes a vanishing culture with poignancy and love. His boy-narrator is a marvelous creation.” ―D. M. Thomas, Man Booker Prize finalist for The White Hotel
The Afterlife of Stars is a great adventure story, at once fantastical and true. And the inimitable Beck brothers allow us to see past the horrors of the world with a childlike precocity.” ―David Bezmozgis, Two-time Giller Prize finalist for The Betrayers and The Free World
“Exquisitely moving . . . Kertes is a natural storyteller who creates vivid characters that resonate on the page.” ―Elaine Margolin, Jerusalem Post
“A beautifully written story of brotherly love, family, and the intersection of history in the 20th century.” ―Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Kertes, who himself escaped Hungary after the 1956 revolution, delivers a fastpaced and taut narrative that captures how inscrutable the world's cruelties can be to the children who witness them. Stirring and haunting, The Afterlife of Stars memorably shows how the bonds of brotherhood stay strong in a crisis.” ―Booklist (Starred Review)
“[A] fervent novel. Kertes (Gratitude, 2009), winner of the National Jewish Book Award, begins his newest work in his own native Budapest.... [protagonists] Robert and Attila are a winning pair of guides....Kertes' voice is a lyrical one, and his work is frequently moving.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Slender yet consequential...Part of what makes the book so compelling is its sympathetic portrayal of political refugees at a time when they are frequently misunderstood at best, and demonized at worst....But the beating heart of this book is the relationship between [protagonists] Robert and Attila, a remarkable pair of brothers whose bond goes beyond affection, beyond shared history, beyond blood. They are two young men who, once met, you'll never forget.” ―Bookpage

The Afterlife of Stars is a remarkable achievement. It takes us to some of humanity’s darkest places, though in a voice so infused with life and so attuned to life’s wonder that it manages to wrest from them a sense of resounding affirmation.” ―Nino Ricci, Winner of the Governor General’s Award

“The Afterlife of Stars has a wonderful, unique voice and a gift of language. It is a great artistic achievement.” ―Trevor Cole, Winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Honour

Other titles by Joseph Kertes

Related lists