Latest on my website: Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Fejezet a szerelemről (Chapter on Love). Set in a small unnamed Italian town, probably towards the end of the Renaissance, this book is about love but not, I would think, love as you know it. The town’s most famous son, the Pope, whom we know only as Pius but whose biography does not conform with any of the real popes of that name, has died, possibly murdered. We follow his story, the stories of the mayor of the town, his newly appointed secretary, the Donna, a former mistress of the mayor and a powerful woman in the town, and Angelina, niece of the Pope and of his brother, a priest still living in the town. As this is Szentkuthy, it is wild, exuberant, highly colourful and thoroughly original. He can take pages to describe the bed and bedroom of the mayor’s mistress, a prostitute, and then have an imagined dialogue between the Pope and a bandit who has been hanged for his crimes before getting onto love described in a highly imaginative and highly colourful manner. It is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, even if it is one you may wish to read more than once to fully understand what is going on.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s Szabadulás [Liberation]. This novel is set during the siege of Budapest at the end of World War II as the Russians attack and the Germans and their Hungarian allies defend. Our heroine is Elisabeth. Her father is wanted by the Germans and their Hungarian allies, Arrow Cross , so she struggles to keep him hidden, changing his hiding place regularly. The second part of the book is about how Elisabeth and her neighbours hide out in the cellar, listening to the bombs and shooting and waiting for the arrival of the Russians. There are two Jews with them, hiding from the Arrow Cross and Gestapo and we learn of their experiences. Above all, Márai gives us an excellent portrait of a city under siege and the reactions and feelings of the people inside the city.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s A sziget [The Island]. This novel, available in seven other languages but not English, tells the story of Viktor Henrik Askenazi, a Frenchman of Hungarian origin, who is a professor of Greek and Asia Minor languages in Paris, married to Anna, with a daughter and also with a mistress, Elise. He leaves Anna to live with Elise. He struggles with his relationships and eventually leaves Elise to live on his own, though still seeing Anna. At the suggestion of friends, he goes off on holiday to what is now Croatia, staying on an island, not far from Dubrovnik. Initially he does nothing but when he learns that Anna has gone off to Brazil, following a letter from him asking for a divorce, and he sees and follows an attractive German woman in the hotel, he slowly becomes agitated and slips into insanity. This is the story of a man who needs structure in his life and when that goes, he goes as well.
The latest addition to my website is Zsuzsa Selyem‘s Moszkvában esik (It’s Raining in Moscow). This is a series of interrelated stories concerning the Beczásy family, who were driven out of Armenia and settled in what was then Hungary, but in the last century changed hands three times and is now in Romania. Aided by various animals, who comment on both events and human foibles, we follow in particular the story of István Beczásy from his sexual initiation as a young man to the age of ninety-seven when he dictates his memories to his granddaughter. In particular, he and his family are driven out as enemies of people and settled in remote Romania. He is arrested and tortured but survives. Selyem does not hold back her hatred of the communist regimes and clearly has a strong affection for István, despite his faults, a man who loves plants and the land.
Latest on my website: Sándor Márai‘s Sándor Márai. The story starts when Giacomo Casanova has just made his famous escape from prison in Venice. As the title tell us, he arrives in Bolzano. He is wearing rags. However, he manages to hustle money and credit, tries (not terribly successfully) to seduce the chambermaid and attracts the attention of the people of the town, particularly the women. However, Bolzano is the home of the seventy-year old Duke of Parma. The Duke and Casanova had fought a duel over a young woman, Francesca, which the Duke had easily won. The Duke now visits Casanova, aware that Francesca, now his wife, still loves Casanova. He has a proposition to make to Casanova, offering ample reward if he carries out the relatively simple task and veiled threats if he does not. However, the men had not reckoned with Francesca, very much her own woman and not one to be toyed with. Márai parodies Casanova’s own memoirs, writing in a bombastic and overblown style. The book is certainly great fun but not his best.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s Eszter hagyatéka (Esther’s Inheritance). Esther is in her late forties and lives alone with an elderly aunt. She has only ever loved one person – Lajos. After a long gap he is now visiting her and, as the second sentence of the book tells us, will rob her. He had been the friend of her brother, Laci, and was going to marry Esther but ended up marrying her younger sister, Vilma, with whom Esther did not have a good relationship. Vilma died and Esther briefly looked after her two children while Lajos travelled. When he returned, she cut off contact. But now he is back, smooth, deceitful, dishonest, deceiving Esther, her brother, her friends and everyone else he comes into contact with. People know he is deceiving them and yet they go along with it.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s A zendülők (The Rebels). The book is set in May 1918. Four young men have just finished school and are waiting to join the army. They formed a gang at school which, initially, was just an anti-teacher and anti-parent gang but has become more sinister. They steal on a fairly large scale, primarily from their parents. Indeed, they steal so much, they have to rent a place to store it. When an itinerant actor becomes close to them and they realise that the fathers of two of them returning from the war, will discover the thefts, things take a turn for the worse. Márai tells a superb story of relationships, superficially smooth, but with hidden issues, partially class-based, and how rebellion is not always straightforward.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s Bebi, vagy az elsö szerelem [Bebi or First Love]. the novel recounts the story of Gaspar, a fifty-four year old Latin teacher in the Hungarian town of Z. Though he gets on well enough with his colleagues, he lives a solitary life, having no friends, no romantic life, no family, no pet and no connection with religion. As he is getting older, he is starting to feel his loneliness more and more and frequently complains about it. He is persuaded to go on holiday – the first time in twenty-eight years – and visits the somewhat seedy resort town he visited twenty-eight years ago. He meet another solitary man but though they briefly connect, the man lives in Vienna. Back in Z. things get worse, particularly, when he starts obsessing about the relationship between Madar, a poor but very good student, and Margit, a girl in the same class. Márai gradually and skilfully develops Gaspar’s increasing irrational behaviour.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Mára‘s A gyertyák csonkig égnek (Embers). Hendrik is a seventy-five year old general, living alone, with his servants, in his castle in Hungary. He had had a successful military career, starting at the age of ten when he was enrolled in the military academy in Vienna. There he met Konrad and they had become close friends and remained that way for twenty-four years, despite their differences. Hendrik came from a rich family and enjoyed hunting and the military life, Konrad came from a poor family and was passionate about music. Nearly forty-two years before the start of the novel, Konrad had visited Hendrik and his wife, Krisztina. The two men went out hunting. Something happened on the hunt, for Konrad left immediately afterwards and left town without saying goodbye. There had been no communication between the two men since. And then Konrad comes to visit. It is Hendrik who explains his view of what happened and Konrad does not disagree. The event scarred the lives of both men. This is a classic Hungarian novel about honour and integrity but also about love and passion.
The latest addition to my website is Janos Szekely‘s Kísértés (Temptation). This is a sad tale of Béla, a Hungarian born out of wedlock in the early 1920s – his father has disappeared – and brought up in a rural area by a cruel foster woman while his mother tries to earn her living in Budapest. He is starved, beaten and denied education. Eventually, when he tries to steal some shoes – he has none – in a very cold winter, he is packed off to Budapest, where his mother is struggling to earn her living and pay the rent. He gets a job as a hotel porter – no pay, only tips and food – but the pair still struggle, even when the father turns up again. He is seduced by an older woman and torn between left- and right-wing activists, with things only getting worse when the Great Depression hits. Szekely clearly shows his sympathies for the poor and downtrodden, for whom there seems to be little hope and little escape.