Homecoming and other stories

GÖNCZ Árpád



Göncz, apart from being a writer, was a leading Hungarian democratic politician, the rst freely elected president for forty years. The gift of ‘political speech’ is clearly there in his foreword which we quote below. He has in fact a great gift, unlike most politicians, for clarity and economy — here he makes a ‘chapter’ in a micro-novel about the toll of war in Hungary;

Apartment Building

It was struck by 35 grenades and one cannon burst. Everything was destroyed. Except for the large wall mirror on the wall facing the street in apartment #12b, rst oor.

This is from a story or mini-novella entitled ‘1944’ which passes us images of ‘total war’ in a beloved and beautiful city, hit with maximum force from both sides, a picture of a kind of war never witnessed in Britain, or indeed in the other English-speaking countries, lying oceans away from tanks and bombs…

‘The Front’ is where humanity presses up against inhumanity and in ‘Homecoming’, the title piece of this little book, a man locked up for having the wrong beliefs is eventually allowed to return to his wife and child. It is brief but touching, and by a writer who himself suffered such imprisonment. Göncz’ style is that of the vignette, seemingly effortless but in practice hard to pull off. ‘Balance’ succinctly encodes the long misery of the Cold War and the isolation it enforced on whole populations, here in a description of the ruthless, implacable separation of two lovers, who have to live as if just a step away from the ultimate separation.

The nal story ‘Encounter’ is intriguing: a dark night and a bishop’s car breaks down; his chauffeur can’t nd a mechanic — it’s late on Sunday night of course — so His Eminence is forced to spend the night in a nearby manor house with a strange lady. This turns out to be a very curious encounter.

There’s an echo of the much better known Czech writer (and politician) Vaclav Havel in the work of Göncz, who is also a play-wright. The stories alone though are certainly worth seeking out, as little masterpieces of brevity. RK

Sample


How may we recognise him — that contemporary of mine, somehow over sixty — the nameless Hungarian? Let’s try to draw his portrait the way the police compile their identikit proles, on the basis of eye-witness descriptions which may agree or conict with each other. This Hungarian will automatically have lost six years of his life which he owed the devil, and will carry the marks of the two deep creases at the comers of his mouth. Even though he has been lucky in not being buried in an improvised grave in the frozen soil of the Ukraine, he has marched twelve hundred miles through an endless succession of battles on frozen feet, shod only in thin-soled boots, without being captured and returned home at last, where he was awaited by his mother, wife and child. That is if he had them and if they had waited. Within four years his home and his land were taken from him, his place of work was nationalised, he was evicted from his at, or deported, or he ed his village, and either he denied his faith, his nation and his political convictions or he found himself in a forced labour camp, or in prison, and when he was let out he had to start his life all over again and harbour his ‘soul’ in a deep inner emigration. Without further complications he would have spent ve to six years in poverty, in prison, or in beginning life anew. Meanwhile, if he had not surrendered, he had learned the art of constantly lying in order to preserve himself. Until the death of Stalin. 7 ‘Foreword’