The Case Worker [A látogató]


This is a story of gripping terror and angst, transmitting a sense of alienation and anxiety familiar from the writings of earlier authors like Franz Kafka. Yet, it differs from other writing in signicant ways; unlike Kafka’s work, which, in a metaphorical way, exposes the general human condition behind the temporary alienation, bureaucracy and the instability of the human psyche, Konrád’s book, written in Hungary in 1969, is undeniably more critical of a particular political regime than the general human condition.

The story of The Case Worker is rooted in Konrád’s personal experiences as a social worker in the Hungary of the 1960s, and is much indebted to the historical commitment of Hungarian intellectuals to expose political falsications by providing sociological reportage. In the 1960s, this commitment to the political exposé resulted in a serious critique of post-Stalinist Communism which tried to deny the existence of social maladjustment, of people who were hopeless and voiceless, in the shining Socialist Fatherland.

The case worker is a middle aged bureaucrat in a Budapest welfare organisation visiting one of the most neglected, run down slums of Budapest, encountering a variety and unimaginable depth of material and psychological depravation, amongst them a ve-year-old mentally handicapped boy, whose parents, déclassé social mists themselves, had recently taken poison. The nameless social worker toys with the idea of leaving his wife, children and career, to devote himself to the care of the boy. The thin plot of the novel ends here, what remains to be considered is not so much the sociological exposé, but a powerful narrative that draws on traditions of European modernism, with descriptions of states of consciousness in long passages of poetic beauty, an exemplary rhetoric full of unusual metaphors and original adjectives. ZV


I nd the child alone. He is sitting dry-eyed in his crib, sucking his big toe and looking at a piece of bread that has fallen on the oor. He bends forward and I notice that even his shoulder is covered with white down. Startled by my arrival, he takes his toe out of his mouth, begins to shiver, scrambles to his feet, leans back against the frame of his crib, and with awkward, uncertain movements rocks to and fro, rubbing his chest against the bars, letting his long arms hang down outside, and curling up the toes of his deformed feet. A short, guttural sound comes out of him, then he begins to coo, in a low tone at rst, gradually his voice grows shrill and he lets out a long shriek, while the tendons of his thin neck quiver under his big bony chin and he stares open-eyed. His heavy, imploring look disarms me. I tickle him under one ear and stroke his back, slowly, happiness wells up in him till it reaches his eyes and bursts from his throat; he scampers about, squealing and yapping; he nestles up against my hand, maneuvers so as to rub as much skin as possible against it, clutches my wrist, and pulls the sleeve of my coat. I rough his glossy down, bewildered by his ecstasy; he thrusts his skull into the palm of my hand, draws my hand to his face, and suddenly, at the height of his bliss, bites it. It hurts. 80-81