The HSW Literary Agency



Joseph Kertes

*Winner of the 2009 U.S. National Jewish Book Award for Fiction for Gratitude*

Joseph Kertes was born in Hungary, but escaped with his family to Canada after the revolution of 1956. He studied English at York University and the University of Toronto where he was encouraged in his writing by Irving Layton and Marshall McLuhan.

Kertes founded Humber College's distinguished creative writing and comedy programs. He is currently dean of Humber’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, and is the recipient of numerous awards for teaching and innovation. His first novel, Winter Tulips, won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Boardwalk, his second novel, and two children's books, The Gift (Groundwood) and The Red Corduroy Shirt (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), met with critical acclaim. Kertes’ most recent book, Gratitude, was published in 2008 by Penguin Group Canada and Caleidoscópio (Portugal), and is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne (USA).

Works on Offer:


Last Impressions is a dark comedy following an older man, David Beck, in his declining months, and his middle-aged son, Ben, as they consider the accomplishments of a life. The question for the father is, “Did I do what I could?” On a visit to the cemetery, Ben says to his father, “St. Augustine divided people into two categories: those who are here merely to use the world and those who are here to leave something of value behind.” Ben asks his father what camp he belongs to.

The father considers the distinction before saying, “Don’t judge. It’s unwise and unfair to expect ordinary people to be something they’re not. I survived the big war in Hungary. I brought you to Canada. I’m leaving you here.”

The seemingly self-centered David makes more of an impression on his son in his last months than ever before. Both learn what the other is made of.

They revisit the father’s past in Hungary, his early years of success and comfort, and the crumbling of a rich East European culture; they remember their dangerous escape, when Ben was still a young boy; they review David’s losses lately (his wife, his friends, his home, his car—hence, his independence); and they visit the old haunts in Toronto—the first house, the first buffet at which they feasted on an immigrant’s salary, and they feast again until the father suffers chest pains.

In the hospital, David asks what there is left. A nurse wanders by and reminds David of his good fortune. He tells her, “I’ll tell you what—when I die, I’ll leave my luck to you.”

Manuscript forthcoming
Rights: World

Penguin Group (Canada), Spring 2008
Caleidoscópio, Portugal, Fall 2008
Thomas Dunne, USA, 2009
Elliot Edizioni, Italy, Forthcoming

Translation Rights Available

*Winner of the 2009 Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Award*

“…all of us are capable of making mistakes with tragic consequences…”

Set during the Second World War, Gratitude tells the story of a Hungarian Jewish family that is saved from deportation by a cousin, only to banish that same cousin from their lives as soon as the war is over.

“This story has haunted me my whole life and I am writing a novel inspired by a family anecdote. The events in my story occurred before my time. But I have tried to create a novel around these people, turned them into characters and given them lives. What the story says to me—and what I hope sets it apart from others on the subject—is that all of us—victims, perpetrators, Christians, Jews, saints and criminals alike—are capable of making mistakes with tragic consequences.”
—Joe Kertes

Praise for Gratitude:

“Kertes leavens the grim material with a few lighter scenes of the Becks trying to make the most of a horrible situation, which goes a long way to making them an endearing and memorable group, while the author's straightforward style moves the story along at a healthy clip.”

--Publishers Weekly, August 24, 2009

 “From family members’ abstract interior monologues railing against the injustice of their plight to small, telling details—a pot of stew left boiling in a home suddenly abandoned—Kertes captures both the inhumanity of the perpetrators and the resilience of the survivors.”

--Booklist, September 1, 2009

“Warmly recommended for all readers with an interest in this era.”

--Library Journal, September 15, 2009

“…Kertes masterfully weaves in bits of devastating beauty.”

--San Francisco Book Review, November 09 (Vol. 1, Issue 3)

"Gratitude grabbed me and wouldn't let go; I found it totally engrossing.  It is a huge, sprawling novel, yet beautifully precise. Gratitude brings new life to well-known history, but the lasting strength of this wonderful book is its people, in all their flaws and glories. It is a massive achievement.”

--Roddy Doyle, Booker prize winner

Gratitude is a rich, grand novel.  It reveals the complexity of human psychology and motivations.  It shows the fate and the cruelty and generosity of human beings caught in the violence of history.  Joseph Kertes writes with tremendous skill, strength, and passion, which make reading this book sheer pleasure. Stylistically and thematically, it is a remarkable achievement."

--Ha Jin

"A major novel that spills over with humanity--by a master story-teller...."

--Bruce Jay Friedman

Young Adult Novels

These two novels pick up where the acclaimed The Gift (Groundwood) and The Red Corduroy Shirt (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) left off. Intended for children in the nine-to-ten age group, they continue the story of Jacob Beck, a Hungarian-Jewish boy who has fled the 1956 revolution in Hungary with his family and settled in Toronto.


 “... when it comes to playing hockey, all that matters is how good he is at hockey...”

In Leaf Nation Jake goes to the neighbourhood ice rink with his brother Noah to play hockey, but when the captains are choosing sides, they always pick Jake last. It doesn’t matter how good he is on the violin or how high his grades are; when it comes to playing hockey, all that matters is how good he is at hockey. Feeling depressed, Jake arranges for all his pals to meet the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey star, Frank Mahovlich, and to get the great man’s autograph for each of the guys. Jake is riding high again until the following Saturday at the rink when it comes to choosing sides, and Jake is once again back on the bottom.

Manuscript Available
Rights: World


“...Don't you people wash?...”

First Dance is the story of Jake’s first romantic stirrings. He is smitten by a girl named Julia and persuades his friend John (another Hungarian immigrant) to attend the Valentine’s Day dance with him for moral support. But when Friday night rolls around, John has developed the flu, and Jake has to go to the dance on his own. His beloved Julia stamps his hand at the door with the image of Neptune. He manages to dance one dance with Julia and floats home, deciding he will not wash the image of Neptune off his hands. The following week, he finally succeeds in talking to Julia again in the cafeteria. As he is eating lunch with John, Jake brandishes the image on his hand of Neptune. His confidence is squashed by Julia's terrible reply: “Don’t you people wash?”

Manuscript available
Rights: World

Praise for Joseph Kertes’ Young Adult novel, The Gift (Groundwood):

“…elegantly understated drawings by Peter Perko underscore a quietly powerful text.”
—The Five Owls, November/December 1996

“…despite the small picture-book format and the child's first-person narrative, this is a subtle story, which even older students might want to talk about at holiday times: that experience of cultural displacement, those times when you tried so hard and just didn't get it. The ending is beautifully understated…”

Praise for The Red Corduroy Shirt (Stoddart Kids, 1998):

“With a work of this originality, classifications aren’t really useful… Kertes packs a lot of complicated emotion into a plain and simple text and Perko’s illustrations capture its introspective quality…Open-ended and real, this is the sort of story that reminds us what learning to read is all about.”
—Quill & Quire, November 1998

The Red Corduroy Shirt is a poignant, highly readable first-person story about an immigrant experience… Kertes’s prose reminds me of the narrative voice in Roch Carriere’s beloved The Hockey Sweater: both authors capture just the right tone. At 30 pages, including 11 attractive drawings in pen and ink, graphite pencil and watercolour pencils by Peter Perko, The Red Corduroy Shirt is a slim little book with a lot of substance.”
The London Free Press, November 4, 1998

“Kertes’s new novella, beautifully observed and told, involves, as does its predecessor, a gift, the giving of which results in a chasm of misunderstanding.”
— Globe and Mail Literary Review, November 1998

“Words and pictures together create a softly beautiful and inspiring work.”

—Guelph Mercury, January 25, 1999