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Neighbours of the Night

ADY Endre

Short stories are not the genre that secured Endre Ady’s fame — the success of his remarkably innovative and dramatic poetry has nearly completely obscured his other writing. Yet he achieved his rst success precisely with excellent essays in periodical publications, including the appropriately named Nyugat (West) which, with its focus on radical developments in the arts in Western Europe, almost overnight shook Hungarian culture out of its provincial slumber.

The stories in Neighbours of the Night...READ MORE

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The Nightmare [A Gólyakalifa]

BABITS Mihály
A fascinating psychological drama, presented as the frenetic notes of a man revealing the secret life of his soul. In this his rst novel, originally published in 1916, Babits sets out to explore the nature of a personality split equally into two lives, each representing the night-time self of the other, its opposite.

The book purports to be the autobiography of Elemér Tábory. It begins with a description of him as a child in a wealthy home, well-off materially but also with a rich inner life. Soon however we discern a shadow, beginning in childish games but continuing in reex reactions to memories he experiences as ‘awakening’. Slowly Elemér becomes aware that he knows and recognises things from ‘a distant past’, though what that distance is he struggles to discover.

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OXY-ACETYLENE WELDING MOTOR EQUIPMENT

BABITS Mihály

One wakes up on a soft silk pillow each morning after long hours

spent in nightmare, the other wakes up on soiled bed linen in a rented bed after a night of sweetness. They each know things through the experience of the other, but this awareness is a curse. They are each pursued by knowledge of the other. Eventually, the two personalities representing the opposite poles of the same person move closer together and Elemér is dragged down, following more closely the movements of his loathsome twin. He keeps his nightmares secret because his fear is that this other night-time self is as much him as the person he is thought to be. He wants to escape from his family, feeling himself tainted and responsible for the darkness he is sure dwells within. Finally, he knows, they must come face to face — ‘It was only then that I realised that the enemy we carry in ourselves is unconquerable. Man can be master over everything except his own thoughts…’

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They were counted [Megszámláltattál]

BÁNFFY Miklós
One of the marks of a successful novel must be the author’s ability to draw us into his world. Miklós Bánffy triumphantly pulls off this feat in his The Writing on the Wall, also known as The Transylvanian Trilogy, where we soon get caught up in the turbulent world of Hungary between 1904 and the start of World War One in 1914. This was the golden age of Mitteleuropa, that semi-mythical Central Europe in which internationally minded gentlemen bought their guns in England, took the waters in Karlsbad, went to the races in Paris and holidayed in Venice.

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They Were Found Wanting [Es hijjával találtattál]

BÁNFFY Miklós

They Were Found Wanting [Es hijjával találtattál] Book Two of The Writing on the Wall opens a couple of years after the end of Book One, with Balint Abady back in Budapest and heavily involved in his work as an independent member of parliament. His cousin Laszlo Gyeroffy has now run through all his money and has been ruined by a crooked lawyer. He is drinking heavily and leading a dissipated life in Transylvania. Balint and Adrienne meet by chance and start up their affair again. A divorce for Adrienne from her unstable husband now seems possible. Balint continues to take an interest in the plight of the mountain people. He also continues his social life, accepting an invitation to a grand shooting party at Jablanka in northern Hungary (an area that now belongs to Slovakia). This section of the novel offers a vivid picture of life on a great country estate.

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They Were Divided… [Darabokra szaggattatol…]

BÁNFFY Miklós

They Were Divided… [Darabokra szaggattatol…] The third volume of The Writing on the Wall is considerably shorter than the rst two: the pace accelerates as the headlong rush to the tragedy of World War One begins. And the mood becomes elegiac.

In the opening chapter Balint sees Adrienne again for the rst time since the ...READ MORE

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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 Mak...READ MORE

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She Loves Me [Egy Nö]

GÁLL István

The Sun Worshipper [A napimádó]

ESTERHÁZY Péter

Péter Esterházy was born in 1950 into an aristocratic family who had played a key part in Hungary’s history for several hundred years before being branded as ‘class enemies’ in the Stalinist 1950s. He is one of the country’s most popular contemporary writers, well known for his essays, short stories and plays as well as his many novels. But he is also a leading literary gure, respected both at home and abroad for his virtuoso use of language and his skill at weaving his wide knowledge of Hungary’s troubled history and of European literature into his witty, irreverent, often erotic ction.

This short, plotless novel is made up of ninety-seven chapters, some of them only a sentence or two, others around a page long, and all of them starting with a variant on chapter one’s two sentences: ...READ MORE

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Eclipse of the crescent moon; a tale of the siege of Eger

[Egri csillagok]

GÁRDONYI Géza
Eclipse of the Crescent Moon has been the favourite reading of Hungarian teenagers since its rst appearance in 1901 with its exciting rendition of one of the most picturesque and dramatic periods of Hungarian history. In fact it contains all the material of a good Victorian-era adventure story for boys.

This is historical romance based on real historical events: the siege of the Castle of Eger (North-East Hungary) by the Turks in 1552. This was one of the most colourful and heroic phases of the protracted war between the Hungarians and the expanding Ottoman Turkish empire in the 16th century. The elements of the original story really do ask for their tale to be told — the position of the castle was highly strategic as it opened up access to the north east of the country, and both the Hungarians and the Turks were aware of that. The Hungarians, though few in number, bravely defended their castle from the Muslim invader....READ MORE

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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 ...READ MORE

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A Hungarian Romance [Széphistória]

HANKISS Ágnes

Hungary’s literary and intellectual life has long tended to be dominated by men. So Ágnes Hankiss’ decision to turn from psychology, her professional eld, to write a novel was seen, at least in some quarters, as a step in the right direction. Her novel came out in 1988, but she has not returned to ction since, though she has published essays.

The novel takes place in Transylvania at the end of the sixteenth century, a turbulent period in Hungary’s history, when the region was an autonomous principality under the suzerainty of the Sultan — most of the country was ruled by the Turks at that point. The Hungarian title refers to the old tradition of a romance (which is what ...READ MORE

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The Right to Sanity. A Victor Határ Reader

HATÁR Victor (Gyözö)

Victor Határ is a writer of a polymathic, entrepreneurial (commercially, philosophically and literarily) type that died out in English and American letters many years ago. This well-produced reader of his extensive work selects from fty years of writing spread across all literary (and some other) genres. It gives an insight into an adventurous, contrary mind that has doubtless developed with particular abandon and luxuriance partly from native exuberance of spirit and partly from the special conditions of being an exiled writer (in London) for much of his career, isolated from the literary machinations and constraints of the national capital, working, as his translator George Szirtes says, in his own ‘Nautilus, hidden under the English waves’. Jules Verne is an appropriate reference in that Határ too has a taste for producing half-realistic wholly tongue-in-cheek descriptions of ‘other’ worlds, in a kind of wayward, way-out form of social critique.

One form of...READ MORE

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The Baron’s Sons [Koszivo ember fiai]

JÓKAI Mór

Jókai’s name is entirely unknown to the contemporary reader, but this was not so earlier this century, for most of his voluminous oeuvre — more than two hundred novels — was not only translated into English and into other European languages, but were permanently in print in Britain until World War Two, and he was one of the better known European writers on the other side of the Atlantic as well. This novel is one of his best, and it provides a good introduction to his oeuvre, for it exemplies both of his fortes; the vivid representation of heroic and romantic turns of Hungarian history with tinges of Orientalism, as well as his descriptive powers of character and personal psychology, which make his novels a unique combination of the most enjoyable features of romantic and realistic narratives.

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Grave and Gay

KARINTHY Frigyes

Witty parodies of schoolboy pranks, satires of insufferably perfect ‘straight A’

students and elegantly scathing literary parodies of contemporaries — these are the genres for which Karinthy is best known amongst his native readership. This selection of his short stories and other writings, however, offers a wider range of the work of the author whose tragedy was perhaps never to be able to nd the genre best suited to his talents.

The rst story of the volume, ‘Meeting with a Young Man’ under the heading ‘The Graver Side of Life,’ aptly summarises Karinthy’s personal anxiety about an autho...READ MORE

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The Ant Heap [Hangyaboly]

KAFFKA Margit

Just as elsewhere in Europe at the turn of the century, the Austro-

Hungarian empire was characterised by social, political and intellectual ferment. Change and modernisation also included a new and acute perception of women’s situation, and the modern woman was born, with her new moral, social, human and intellectual aspirations, and with the desire to have a professional career. This became a possibility with the 1895 Edict by the  Minister of Education, which opened up university education for women. These changes, and the general milieu of social progress  also brought along the emergence of a number of woman writers, who, for the rst time in the history of Hungarian letters, appeared not just as isolated talents, but as a group of talented authors, with a shared sympathy for the situation of women.

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Colours and Years [Színek és évek]

KAFFKA Margit

The novel Colours and Years describes the predicament of the modern woman from a different perspective. While the young women in The Ant Heap were exploring the possibilities and avenues just opening up for developing their social and female identities, this novel concerns a fty-year-old woman, Magda Porteleky. For Magda, just like for any other woman in Europe in the early 1900s, turning fty represents closure and solitude, the sense of an endgame, at best only a moment to calculate all her missed opportunities....READ MORE

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The Case Worker [A látogató]

KONRÁD György

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 ...READ MORE

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Anna Édes [Édes Anna]

KOSZTOLÁNYI Dezső

The nal days of the short lived Hungarian Bolshevik revolution of 1919, the leader of the Bolsheviks, Béla Kun is eeing by aeroplane and nobody quite knows where the political balance lies. The war has been an unmitigated disaster for the country which is about to be savagely punished by the treaties of Trianon and Versailles (which handed over a large part of the country to neighbouring lands), though the protagonists of the book do not know that yet and continue to speculate, somewhat optimistically, about the future.

A cold-blooded bourgeois couple, the Vizys, have been living in siege conditions under the revolutionary regime. The apartment block they inhabit was under the thumb of Ficsor the janitor, who is now terri...READ MORE

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April Fool [Selected Stories]

KOSZTOLÁNYI Dezső

Kosztolányi was a prolic writer inuenced by psychoanalysis (which had many Hungarian exponents). Like other agile and witty writers he was a short story genius and in this attractive little book the talented Eszter Molnár has both selected and translated nineteen of her favourites. Many of the stories attack reality from inside a child’s viewpoint or are about children; they produce a sensation of an uncomfortable clarity — children are often ‘innocent’ of consideration, empathy or socially-inspired illusions, so theirs can be rather a raw world. Above all though it is the intensity of these brief stories that catches; whether in the vision of four-year-old Piroska describing the grand tea ceremonies of another era, or the complex servility/aggression of the young protagonist in ‘Checkmate’, who is obliged to let his sick (and socially superior) playmate win every game of chess against all natural instincts of competitiveness, or the glorious description of the enjoyable, expansive physicality of growing up in summer...READ MORE

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Skylark [Pacsirta]

KOSZTOLÁNYI Dezső

Kosztolányi, born in 1855, is one of Hungary’s greatest stylists, both as a lyric poet and as a prose writer. His precise language and ironic humour are particularly well suited to the short story, or novella, of which Skylark, written in 1923, is one of his best known.

It takes place in September 1899, in an imaginary provincial town called Sárszeg, clearly based on Kosztolányi’s birthplace Szabadka, then in southern Hungary. Less than twenty years later it was to become part of the new state of Yugoslavia and be renamed Subotica, so Kosztolányi was writing from the standpoint of a man whose one-time fellow citizens were having to learn Serbian.

In crisp, mo...READ MORE

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The Melancholy of Resistance [Az ellenállás melankóliája]

KRASZNAHORKAI László

Reader, when you open this book you will be faced with one black molten-lava ow of type that goes on for close on 300 pages in sentences as long as this article is going to be. Do not be put off. You are about to embark on one of the great dark comic novels of our time. The darkness dominates but at the heart of it a kind of ghostly laughter keeps welling up from the deep as though in slow motion. How can I persuade you? Hold your breath for a Krasznahorkaian sentence.

Imagine, then, a world that seems far off and yet is only an accident or two removed from your own, where nothing works, trains disappear, where ‘whatever could be imagined might come to pas...READ MORE

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The Adventures of Sindbad [Szindbád három könyve]

KRÚDY Gyula

Sindbad is an autumnal amorist, a lover of women who, in their turn, adore him because he is the perfect lover. In fact he is so perfect that he is practically immortal. Even death cannot prevent him revisiting his old lovers. In this collection of stories about him he rst appears as a child at the time of his rst romance which is accompanied by the drowning of an ugly hunchbacked fellow-student of his at the seminary. In the second story he dies, though we are given to understand that he is close on three hundred years old. Throughout the subsequent stories we see him in old age or as a ghost after death engaging with a variety of women, most of whom are already in the autumn of their years. There is an elegiac yet ironic lightness of voice in Krúdy that conjures up both Proust and Marquez. Sindbad’s world is that of the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian empire as seen from its romantic, slightly dusty provinces. Sindbad is boy, gentleman-rake and ancient rolled into one. It is impossible to tell whether his lo...READ MORE

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Sunflower [Napraforgó]

KRÚDY Gyula

Krúdy is a prolic, forgotten-and-rediscovered writer whose favourite topic was the country life of another era, a Hungarian Golden Age of the nineteenth century. Although writing about his version of rural tranquillity — a world of lush, romantic young women and eccentric, Quixotic aristocrats — Krúdy himself was a city scapegrace, Bohemian, a night-owl who lived from story to story he published in newspapers eager to distract a post World War One readership with images of a brighter world at a time of territorial partition and economic privation.

Sunower starts off as an unabashedly lyrical, quite light-headed celebration of rural...READ MORE

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Confrontation [Szembesités]

LENGYEL Jozsef

Lengyel is one of the better known Hungarian authors in the West, something attributable to the political content of his writing, rather than, for instance, any aesthetic innovations. By publishing Confrontation in London in 1970, despite the ban placed on the book by the Hungarian government, he appeared to follow the successful tradition of the gulag novels established by Solzhenitsyn, and add one more tragic description of the suffering of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. The novel, of course, can be considered in no way radical now, but putting it in the correct historical context, it is easier to explain how its mild subversiveness appeared so threatening at the time.

As is the case of the Russian writer, Confrontation...READ MORE

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The Tragedy of Man [Az ember tragédiaja]

MADÁCH Imre

(Madách’s play is a notable Romantic era response to political, philosophical and scientic ideas of the time; Madách imagines the Biblical gure of Adam — representing humanity — being taken on a tour of past and future by Lucifer. Madách’s reections are always thought-provoking and frequently strikingly predictive. See also ‘Drama in English Translation’ and ‘Poetry in Translation’ articles in this book. RK)

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Fabulya’s wives and other stories [Fabulya feleségei &

Elõadók, társszerzõk]

MÁNDY Iván

This slim but fascinating book puts together a racy and insightful novella from 1959 ‘Fabulya’s Wives’ and some later less politically constrained stories about a similar milieu written in the 1970s. ‘Fabulya’s Wives’ is about the little Bohème of freelance radio writers and journalists in 1950s Budapest and is a very rich little novella, sharply capturing different angles of this existence such as the painful business of being a jobbing writer:

Mr. Fabulya himself is discussed by various fellow scribes who reminisce about him, generally around the theme of his succession of curious wives — hence the book’s title. These reminiscences abound with little ashes of wider illumination as when one wife allows herself to be picked up and i...READ MORE

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What Was Left

MÁNDY Iván

The posthumous collection of Mándy’s best short stories offer an engaging introduction to one of the most original authors of 20th century Hungarian literature. Mándy’s writing differs from the realist traditions of mainstream Hungarian literature, in that while his short stories lack detailed descriptions of social environments or psychological landscapes they use instead an effective economy of expression borrowed from lm scripts, radio plays and cinema scenarios.

In many of his stories, the author’s interest centres on social outsiders, as in the series of pieces centering on Zsámboky. Zsámboky is no outsider in the usual sense; he is an author recalling memories of parents ...READ MORE

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Once there was a Central Europe. Selected Short Stories and Other Writing

MÉSZÖLY Miklós

Once there was a Central Europe. Selected Short Stories and Other Writing Born in 1921 Mészöly started writing just in time to be caught in the vice of Stalinist literary mechanics. Not keen to produce the kind of work which hymns the love of collective farmgirls for their tractor-pool he eventually took refuge in writing for children.

He re-emerged in the late 1950s with allusive stories like ‘Encounter’ whose refusal to spell things out in an account of the meeting of two women after seventeen difcult years is both a violation of the Stalinist (and Hollywood) ethic of ‘plain facts for plain folks’ and a mild stab in the post-modernist dark; it also produces an unmistakable tingle of literary truth. As does ‘Three Potato Bugs’ which focuses on the chaotic days at the end of World War Two, pointing up their quotidian cruelty, the terrifyi...READ MORE

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The Miracle Worker

MEZEI András

An honest book about Jewish existence in twentieth-century Central

Europe; ‘Soldiers were, as always, hunting for people…’ It’s the story of little Joskele, son of a Jewish fruit peddler who wants to be a footballer after ‘the war and the persecution was gone by’ and ‘The Germans and the Arrowcross (Hungarian Nazis) men had been slaughtered’. Meanwhile we get an interestingly detailed picture of Budapest in the years 1943-4, particularly from the point of view of the Hungarian Jews — the last European Jews rounded up for mass murder by the Germans and their local helpers. Part of the unusual detail we get here is a kind of vox pop of the local anti-Semites, relishing the prospect of de-Jewing the land; ‘The country should have been cleansed of them all, long ago.’ The Hungarian Jews, like their German co-religionists, were, paradoxically, a group...READ MORE

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The Siege of Beszterce [Beszterce ostroma]

MIKSZÁTH Kálmán

A profoundly entertaining raconteur and a ruthless social critic — the unusual complexity of Mikszáth’s writing has made him popular not only with generations of Hungarian readers, but attracted the attention of President Roosevelt as well, whose favourite novel was his St. Peter’s Umbrella (1895).

The Siege of Beszterce displays Mikszáth’s skills at their best; his deft use of anecdote helps him to expose absurdity with utmost irony. Its hero is the eccentric aristocrat, Count István Pongrácz, who, wrapped up in his ...READ MORE

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The Herb of Lohina [A lohinia fü]

MIKSZÁTH Kálmán

An extended humorous anecdote based on local colour, or a profoundly complex short story about an unspectacular tragedy — either way, The Herb of Lohina provides an entertaining introduction to Mikszáth’s work. Mikszáth was the leading novelist of Hungary in the second half of the 19th century, with a special gift for anecdote and narrative, a skill which he also sharpened by his extensive journalism. His early works and short stories are particularly anecdotal, and their subjects were often borrowed from the life of Slovak and Hungarian peasants in the north of Hungary. Yet, his seemingly simple, anecdotal narratives are told not only with great and skilful conciseness, but also often rounded off with a moral, neither too obvious nor too vulgar but with an ironic slant.

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The Paul Street Boys [A Pál utcai fiúk]

MOLNÁR Ferenc

While Ferenc Molnár was an internationally acknowledged playwright, the author of witty and pleasant domestic comedies, his Hungarian audience has always been at least as enthusiastic for his entertaining essays and feuilletons, satirising petit bourgeois snobbery and pretentiousness. This novel, The Paul Street Boys shows him in a different light; this is a tragic tale about adolescence, teen-age chivalry, friendship and untimely death.

Set in Budapest, 1885, the novel narrates a story about a war between two gangs of schoolboys for a piece of grund (ground), an empty ...READ MORE

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Be Faithful Unto Death [Légy jó mindhalálig]

MÓRICZ Zsigmond

Móricz was largely cherished by Hungarian literary historians of traditional Marxist sympathies for his social realism — for his intimate knowledge and meticulous description of the life of the Hungarian peasantry and for his ruthless exposition of the empty and wasteful life of the Hungarian n-de-siècle gentry. This is certainly true for most of his oeuvre; some of the peasant heroes of his early writing embody the brute force which cannot assert itself in constrictive societies and therefore threatens with unpredictable eruptions, while some of his later novels passionately expose the emptiness of the life of the small town gentry where men waste themselves in elegant debauchery, while women turn into neurotic small-time Madame Bovarys in their frustration.

Narrow connes of social existence, ...READ MORE

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Relations [Rokonok]

MÓRICZ Zsigmond

The stiing atmosphere of a small town, the binding power of social expectations, the discrepancy between social status and nancial backup and a well-intentioned but powerless man’s disillusionment are the main themes of Móricz’ later novel Relations. It describes the rise and fall of an innocent, Kopjass, who is accidentally promoted from a minor civic post to a major one, that of Town Clerk in a ctitious small town on the Great Hungarian Plain in the late 1920s, ‘Zsarátnok’, a town which does not exist on the map but whose name suggsts elements of ‘blackmail’, ‘of...READ MORE

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A Book of Memories [Emélkiratok könyve]

NÁDAS Péter

Péter Nádas is better known abroad than any other contemporary Hungarian writer. This ambitious book, which caused a sensation when it was published in Hungary in 1986 (after years of delay as the censors ruminated on it), is his ‘Big Novel’ in every sense of the word. It weighs in at over seven hundred pages and treats the big themes of love and death and identity and what have you. It is also beautifully written, often tragic, sometimes comic. And it is well served by the very readable translation, done from an amended version published after the end of communism and its censors. Not always an easy read, thanks partly to its complexity, partly to Nádas’ predilection for paragraph-length sentences and chapter-length paragraphs. But his eye for the telling detail as well as the broad sweep — he earned his living as a cameraman before concentrating on writing — creates memorable vignettes and makes you feel the colour and texture of people’s lives, so that you are swept along by the narrative, or rather narratives.

 You don’t realise at fi...READ MORE

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The End of a Family Story [Egy családregény vége]

NÁDAS Péter

This shortish novel was written a little before Péter Nádas’ A Book of Memories and shares with it a dearth of paragraphs, a sometimes confusing narrative structure, and some beautiful writing.

In the early part of the book we gradually work out that the narrator is a small boy, who enjoys acting out the various roles in the traditional nuclear family with the kids next door, to make up for his own lack of parents. His mother appears to be dead and his father is caught up in some mysterious job, probably undercover counter-intelligence work, from which he rarely returns home, and then only for a quick bath ...READ MORE

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Love [Szerelem]

NÁDAS Péter

It seems strange to think that this short novel of drug-taking should have been published in Hungary in 1979, under the puritanical Communist regime. That means that it appeared after The End of a Family Story and at about the time when Péter Nádas was starting to try to get his big novel A Book of Memories past the censors. It was not published in English until over twenty years later.

 An unnamed man is in the seventh-oor ...READ MORE

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One Minute stories

ÖRKÉNY István

Örkény (1912-1979) was a humorist, specically a Budapest humorist who, rather unusually, managed to stay in print in Hungary through all its post-war régimes and even at the height of Stalinist censorship. His humour in fact ranges, as one might expect, given all these ‘régimes’ from grey to black via the ironic, the absurd and the grotesque. The ‘one-minuters’ here may be brief but they are often genuinely funny, and usually in a strongly local context, giving an intimate picture of everyday life in the country. In one of the relatively longer pieces ‘Ecstasy’ we get three pages about a man on a splurge, the most wonderful part being the description of the place where the splurge occurs; a Central European delicatessen of a kind never seen in England or America, albeit the name ‘delicatessen’ ...READ MORE

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A wartime memoir: Hungary 1944-1945 [Asszony a fron-ton]

POLCZ Alaine

This deeply autobiographical story, the rst person narrative of the female narrator, counts as a unique piece among recent Hungarian ction. The heroine tells the story of rape, humiliation and suffering in Hungary towards the end of World War Two. For the hardened newspaper reader of the late twentieth century, fed on written and visual reportage of gang rape of civilian inhabitants for the purpose of intimidation and of the general terrors of the war on a daily basis, one more story of this kind does not come as a particular shock. Yet this compelling narrative can still move the reader, precisely because of its differences from newspaper reportage. Rather than sensationalism, it offers an account of events from a distance of forty years, and it is precisely this distance that allows the author to emphasise the dreadful naturalness of brutality, cruelty, and rape.

...READ MORE

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The Coward and other stories

SARKADI Imre

La Dolce Vita in the Hungary of the early 1960s — this apparently paradoxical concept could best summarise Sarkadi’s short novel The Coward. Its heroine, the thirty-year-old Éva is married to a popular sculptor in the Hungary of the post-1956 consolidation, enjoys all the privileges Communist dictatorships offered to their artistic collaborators; a villa, a Mercedes, and a young maid — in other words, Éva has the chance to reenact the life of a wealthy industrialist’s wife of thirty years before. However, her idleness bores and oppresses her, she nds life meaningless and unchallenging and she embarks upon an affair with a young mechanical engineer. Yet, as the title indicates, she is ‘The Coward’, and, when posed with the choice between her life of (relative) upper middle class comfort and the drab usefulness of a rural ...READ MORE

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Night of the Pig-killing [Disznótor]

SZABÓ Magda

The tale of Night of the Pig-killing is about love, betrayal and the limited choices available for people in tangled relationships. Set in 1955, in an unnamed city of Hungary, strongly reminiscent of the author’s birthplace Debrecen, Night of the Pig-killing tells the story of two families, the déclassé gentry Kémerys and the soap-makers the Tóths. The story unfolds through parallel internal monologues of different characters, apparently preparing for that great Hungarian tradition of the pig-killing feast, usually the occasion for copious eating, drinking and a family get-together. Yet, while preparing for the event, the protagonists of a long family drama, none of whom can live or wants to live without the oppressive shadows of the past, gradually narrate their own and their family’s story over the previous forty years.

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Kazohinia [Kazohinia]

SZATHMÁRI Sándor

A twentieth-century Hungarian writer rewriting Gulliver’s adventures — despite its oddity, the idea has produced an entertaining and profound book which is still to nd its place in the canon of utopian writing. Its hero, Gulliver, undergoes the predictable experiences: while serving as surgeon on a British ship he suffers a shipwreck and nds himself stranded in a strange country; the land of the Hins which has reached the utmost perfection of technical civilisation which he rst adores then ...READ MORE

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The Smell of Humans; a Memoir of the Holocaust in

Hungary [Emberszag]

SZÉP Ern

Despite its eye-catching title that evokes dreadful memories in so many people, The Smell of Humans is a surprising addition to the many memoirs published by holocaust survivors. Ernő Szép, a Jewish author of rened lyrical poetry, was already over sixty towards the end of the war when the ghettoisation of Budapest Jewry took place, and this book describes his own memories of the Budapest ghetto and its survivors and his time as a forced labourer. Yet the book, based on the author’s personal experiences, differs from many other similar works.

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Journey by Moonlight [Utas és Holdvilág]

SZERB Antal

A highly amusing (and popular) Hungarian book from the late 1930s, in which we meet the romantic gure of Mihály, aloof and poetic but struggling to break with an adolescent rebelliousness which he tries to quell under respectable bourgeois conformism but also with the disturbing attraction of an eroticised death-wish. While there is no doubt an element of (the then especially inuential and risqué) Freudianism in this, as well as perhaps the sexual and emotional claustrophobia of a society with strong Catholic and martial traditions, it is also has a distinct originality.

The narrative is a little pat but, lying beneath this symmetrical structure, there is the phenomenon that af...READ MORE

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The Angry Angel [A dühõdt angyal]

ZILAHY Lajos

Zilahy belongs to the small group of Hungarian authors better known in English-speaking countries, as the author emigrated to the US in the company of many other Hungarians after the Second World War, and many of his works were written with an eye for an American audience. Yet his narratives attract readers on both sides of the Atlantic, for his eminently enjoyable stories provide splendid reading material.

The Angry Angel is the last volume of his monumental multi-volume family history The Dukays, which describes the degeneration and fall of Hungary’s aristocracy through the fortune of a ctitious...READ MORE

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Century in Scarlet [Bíbor évszázad]

ZILAHY Lajos

Lajos Zilahy was already a very successful and widely translated author when he embarked on his trilogy about an aristocratic Hungarian family, the Dukays, from 1814 down to the Second World War. A minor aristocrat himself, he was born in 1891 and wrote his rst book, a collection of poems, when he was recovering from serious injuries he had received on the Russian front during the First World War. His views on social reform and his refusal to join any political party made him enemies in the Hungarian press and among the Nazi occupying forces, who were about to arrest him when he managed to go into hiding in a cellar in Budapest, with his wife and son. It was here, in 1944, that he started on the trilogy.

His democratic views were equally unpopular with the post-war Communist regime and three years later he ...READ MORE

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ANTHOLOGY

(ed. Andrew Handler)

Ararát; A Collection of Hungarian-Jewish Short Stories As the editor and translator of this collection, Andrew Handler, points out, emancipated Jews have been very active in Hungarian cultural life — most of the founders and major editors of the very inuential literary magazine Nyugat (West) were Jewish for example. It’s clear from this fascinating anthology of stories from 1921–1944 that there are, as Handler puts it, an interesting group of Jewish writers hidden, as their Gentile compatriots tend to be too, ‘behind the forbidding barrier of the Hungarian language’.

Tamás Kóbor’s ‘When they ...READ MORE

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ANTHOLOGY

Peter Zollman ed.

Peter Zollman is a respected translator of Hungarian poetry and here he has put together a personal selection, his ‘dream team’ of poets and poems, from the 1800s to the present. Most of the major poets of Hungary seem to be represented: Petőfi, Babits, Kosztolányi, József etc. As a charming coda to the main Hungarian business there is also a rather splendid selection of thirteen pages of other, international — French, German, Latin, Portuguese and Italian — poets that demonstrate Zoll-man’s quite impeccable grasp of who the really great and interesting poets (in these languages) have been; from Catullus to Pessoa, via Baudelaire, Villon, Brecht and Salvatore Quasimodo, in his selection he doesn’t seem to miss a trick.

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Contemporary Hungarian Short Stories. Give or take a day.

Ottó Tolnai et al.
One of the more recent in a series of anthologies of Hungarian prose and poetry translations produced by the publisher Corvina in Budapest, Give or take a day includes stories from Hungarian writers living in ex-Yugoslavia and Romania where the Transylvanian region has historically been an important centre of Magyar culture and settlement. One of the most interesting stories is Ottó Tolnai’s ‘Diamond’, an account of rough-and-ready immigrant worker life, of women leaving the Bácksa region in ex-Yugoslavia’s Vojvodina to do agricultural labour in West Germany. The narrator sometimes speaks from a little girl’s point of view, explaining that one set of grandparents were ‘Red Grandpa’ and ‘Red Grandma’ who end up in Russia purged by Stalin in Siberia — ‘hell itself’. Meanwhile the asparagus elds and vineyards of the Rheingau (Germany) don’t seem to be exactly heaven either; the women pickers wake in the dark every morning hands and legs aching with pain…

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The Kiss; 20th Century Hungarian Short Stories

István Bart ed.
Published in Hungary, this collection of stories by thirty-one writers, all well known at home, makes a good introduction to Hungarian ction. Novels by a few of the authors — Péter Nádas, Péter Esterházy, Gyula Krúdy and Dezso Kosztolányi — are available in English, and a play by György Spiró has been translated. But on the whole, this anthology offers an opportunity to discover the work of writers otherwise inaccessible to English-speakers.

The stories are not dated, but the arrangement appears to be loosely chronological by the authors’ date of birth, starting with the title story by Endre Ady (born 1877) and ending with ‘The Miraculous Life of Prince Bluebeard’ by Péter Esterházy (born 1950) — though Sándor Bródy, the author of the second story, was born fourteen years before Ady. The brief biographical notes at the end of the book are useful.

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Present Continuous. Contemporary Hungarian Writing

[ed. István Bart]

Present Continuous. Contemporary Hungarian Writing The editor of this substantial anthology — István Bart — is also head of the publishing house, Corvina of Budapest, that produced it. He has here tried to put together a collection that illustrates both the period 1945–1985 in Hungary and its literature. He starts, however, in the middle of World War Two with István Örkény’s ‘The Hundred and Thirty Seventh Psalm’, a bitter, economical account of a forced labour company in German-occupied Hungary. Its Jewish protagonist is an ex-medical student whose studies were cut short by Hitler’s entry into Prague and he is now forced to carry out a botched operation under primitive conditions; clearly Hungary had its own ‘Year Zero’ in 1945 after the cruel and destructive conditions imposed by war and Fascism. In the same vein Ferenc Sánta’s ‘Nazis’ gives a glimpse of a menacing soldiery with unlimited power over civilian lives. The post-war period starts with Iván Boldizsár’s ‘Meeting the General’, an excellent aperçu on the political constipation of the 1950s, when every move could be a false move and the cell door is slammed shut by torturers; here the new Communist ones, but there is also a sinister link to th...READ MORE

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