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.
The latest addition to my website is Magda Szabó‘s Abigél (Abigail). This first appeared in Hungary fifty years ago where it has been Szabó’s most popular novel. It is set in 1943-44 and tells the story of the fourteen-fifteen year old Georgina (Gina) Vitay. Her mother died when she was two and she has been brought up by her father, a military general and a French governess. He suddenly decides to send the governess back to France, as Hungary and France are at war and Gina to a boarding school in a remote part of Hungary. Much of the story is set there and deals with her problems fitting in to a conventional, strict and religious school but also the fallout from the war and the reasons her father finally gives her for sending her there. There is clearly opposition in the town and, perhaps, in the school to the conduct of the war and the alliance with and subsequent occupation by the Germans and all of this has an effect on Gina. It is a very well-written book, as we follow Gina’s travails both with her classmates and the staff as well as what is happening in the outside world.
The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Barokk Róbert [Robert Baroque]. Though only published three years after his death, this is an early work, written when he was eighteen (and, apparently, never revised or even reread). It is essentially an autobiographical work about his eighteenth year and includes his home and school life, the conflict between his religious feelings and his lustful feelings towards young women and his desire to be a writer. He has many ideas for novels, stories and even a play, which he shares with us but which never get written. He also often veers off into flights of fantasy about his life, his writing and the young women he is attracted to. While not a great work, it is interesting to see what the young Szentkuthy was like and how his lurid imagination carried him away even then.
The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Europa Minor, the fourth book in Szentkuthy’s Saint Orpheus’s Breviary series. This is the last of the series translated into French, though it is expected that this and further ones will appear in English from Contra Mundum Press. In this novel, Szentkuthy turns his attention to Asia, with the title a somewhat mocking reference to the European use of Asia Minor for the Anatolian plateau. We jump around from Philip II of Spain, Queen Mary of England (who was married to Philip) and Queen Elizabeth I of England (who reads The Tale of the Genji, nearly three hundred years before it appeared in English), before moving on to strange Persian folk-tales, invented by Szentkuthy, the Mogul Empire and Emperor Akbar in particular and Genghis Khan before returning to Queens Mary and Elizabeth. We even get an appearance from a couple of Americans: Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, of all people. It is glorious fun, totally anarchic and it all goes to show that, well, the Asians are superior to the Europeans in many ways.
The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Eszkoriál [Escorial]. This book follows the life of Francis Borgia, descendant of those Borgias, later Director-General of the Society of Jesus and canonised nearly a hundred years after his death. He had a colourful life and Szentkuthy inevitably makes it more colourful, while being critical of Spain of that era (sixteenth century). Though the novel is primarily set in Spain, we spend a fair amount of time in legendary China, meet Francis’ great-aunt Lucrezia Borgia and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, among other notables, and follow the contemporary political situation. As always, Szentkuthy charges off on tangents, plays havoc with historical accuracy and chronology and has great fun condemning Catholic Spain.