The Giant

DÉRY Tibor

Déry’s short stories represent a genre fairly common in Hungarian letters but what makes this collection particularly interesting is their historical specicity.

Set in postwar Hungary, the three novellas contained in this volume all provide a glimpse into slightly different periods of physical misery and deprivation. ‘The Giant’, a metaphorical novella about a man of enormous size, provides the reworking of the ancient saw of the ckleness of women. ‘Behind a Brick Wall’, not the strongest of these stories, provides an insight into the soul of an apparatchik during the 1960s, ‘Love’, a novella of poetic beauty later made into a superb lm by Károly Makk, describes the feelings of a man released from prison. The background to all of these stories is the material misery and political oppression of post-1945 Hungary.

‘The Giant’, the story of István Kovacs jr., is set immediately after the war, among the starving inhabitants of Budapest. István falls in love with the orphaned girl Juli and moves in with her on the outskirts of Budapest in a kind of idyllic space. The fable of eternal love however is soon shattered by the intrusion of politics and everyday reality; the union of the improvident male and the ckle female soon leads to a break-up, and Juli runs away with a new admirer for the price of a few pounds of our. The commentary on the world of the fable — the impossibility of eternal love — is obvious, but what is also in the story is its background: impoverished, starving Budapest, where people in deprived circumstances are more vulnerable than ever to any kind of seduction.

‘Behind the Brick Wall’ focuses upon the guilt of the apparatchik in a factory in the 1950s, whose sense of justice is affected by the party’s inhuman demands on, and the real interests of, the workers. ‘Love’, nally, is a novella of great beauty about cruelty, injustice and the power of love. It documents the homecoming of B. a political prisoner of the Stalinist period, who is suddenly released from prison after seven years of connement. B.’s homecoming is uneventful; the taxi driver immediately recognises his position and refuses to accept a tip from him, while his wife is still waiting for him faithfully, in the company of their son who was born after B.’s imprisonment. This nearly plotless novella, is a real treat for the reader who learns something about both the miseries of (unlawful) imprisonment and the power of love, about the atmosphere of captivity and that of liberty in a restrained, understated style. ZV


The following quotation is taken from the story ‘Love,’ part of the conversation between B., recently released from prison, and the taxi

driver taking him home.

‘Can you tell?’ asked B. after a while. ‘Well maybe a little,’ said the driver. ‘My brother-in-law also had such a sick-lookin’ colour. Of course, you might come from the hospital, but they don’t crease your clothes like that. How long have you been in for?’

‘Seven years,’ said B.

The driver whistled. ‘Political?’ ‘Yes,’ said B. ‘A year and a half in the condemned cell.’ ‘And now they let y’out?’ ‘Looks like it,’ said B. ‘Does it show a lot?’

The driver shrugged both shoulders and let them fall again. ‘Seven years!’ he repeated. ‘No wonder.’ 130-131