Hungarian may be an unknown language to most of the world but a substantial number of its greatest works have been translated and are ready to read in English.

Get to know more about a fascinating, sometimes bizarre nation, romantic and crazy, with a history full of brilliance and brutality, through its literature.

This Babel Guide presents modern Hungarian literature: novels, short-story collections, poetry and drama that have been translated into English. Sample the hallucinogenic typography of Peter Nadas, the psycho-comedic narratives of Agnes Hankiss, or Tibor Dery's Lilliputian characters.


51 records found



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…’


She Loves Me [Egy Nö]

GÁLL István

The Sun Worshipper [A napimádó]


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

Homecoming and other stories


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

The Baron’s Sons [Koszivo ember fiai]


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.


Grave and Gay


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

Colours and Years [Színek és évek]


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

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 ...READ MORE

Confrontation [Szembesités]


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

Fabulya’s wives and other stories [Fabulya feleségei &

Elõadók, társszerzõk]


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

What Was Left


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

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

A Book of Memories [Emélkiratok könyve]


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

Love [Szerelem]


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

One Minute stories


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

The Coward and other stories


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

Journey by Moonlight [Utas és Holdvilág]


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

Century in Scarlet [Bíbor évszázad]


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

The Adventures of Sindbad [Szindbád három könyve]


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

The Angry Angel [A dühõdt angyal]


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

Anna Édes [Édes Anna]


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