Category: Hungary Page 1 of 3

László Krasznahorkai: Aprómunka egy palotaért (Spadework for a Palace)

The latest addition to my website is László Krasznahorkai‘s Aprómunka egy palotaért (Spadework for a Palace) This is a short novel about a New York librarian called herman melvill (sic). He has various obsessions, including the idea that only librarians should be able to visit libraries. He gradually becomes obsessed with his namesake Herman Melville and, following Melville’s journey from his home to his work at the Customs House, and adds in an obsession with Malcolm Lowry (who walked the same area) and architect Lebbeus Woods, who lived and worked in the area. This leads to an obsession with our interconnectedness with nature, a theme he believes, of Melville and Woods. The obsessions start taking over his life and his wife leaves him and his boss is concerned. This is a first-class work on literary madness and obsession.

Miklós Szentkuthy: Prae (Prae Part 2)

The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Prae (Prae Part 2). This is the second part of Szentkuthy’s monumental novel, the first part having been reviewed previously. Like the first part it is long and very complicated, with key themes – love/lust, loneliness, religion, morals and coping with life, examined in a decidedly complex way. While the early part of the novel focusses on Leatrice, whom we met in the first part, and examines her dreams, her loneliness, her relationship with her Uncle Peter and with a drug-using actress, the second part is the ruminations of a sixty-year old Anglican priest living in Exeter. He is a flawed character – drug using, unfaithful to his wife, with whom he has frequent fights and generally unhappy with his life – but, as we might expect, he ruminates on a variety of topics, including, of course, love/sex. women, loneliness, religion and morals. This work might be better known had it been written in English, French or German but, whatever the language, like Joyce and Proust, it is one of those works likely to be more talked about than read.

Miklós Szentkuthy: Prae (Prae Part 1)

The latest addition to my website is Prae ( Prae Part 1). Miklós Szentkuthy published this novel in 1934 and it has never been translated into any other language (apart from one chapter in French) till now. This is the first part, a mere 950 pages in length. My review of the second part will appear in July. It is a very complex, very modernist novel whch is impossible to sum up in any way. It has been compared to Proust and Musil and Joyce and Kafka but in reality it is not like any of them, except that it is complex, long and difficult. There is a sort of plot but much of the novel finds Szentkuthy, often through one of his chracters, Leville-Touqué, philosphising, often for many pages. Critics have called it formless, encyclopedic, the ultimate failed modernist hyper-novel,forerunner of the postmodern novel and an attempt to find the one and only physical and metaphysical principle that would account for all of the phenomena of the world. It is all of those and much more. Had it been written in English, French or German, it would be much better known and its publication in English should definitely ensure it is added to the canon of great (and probably all too often unread) modernist novels (think Finnegans Wake). However, if you are at all interested to see the direction the modernist novel took, read this and Szentkuthy’s other works available in English.

László Krasznahorkai: Az ellenállás melankóliája (The Melancholy of Resistance)

The latest addition to my website is László Krasznahorkai:‘s Az ellenállás melankóliája (The Melancholy of Resistance). It is primarily set in a small Hungarian town, clearly based on Gyula, Krasznahorkai’s home town. Lots of things seem to be going wrong: buildings and trees falling, rubbish everywhere, lots of feral cats, trains disappearing. The carnival, featuring the body of a giant whale comes to town and attracts numerous people. Who are they and where did they come from? We follow the stories of Valuska, the local postman, considered the village idiot but with more than meets the eye and his close friend Mr Eszter, former director of music at the school who suddenly quit and took to his bed. when all hell breaks loose – riots linked to the carnival, with Valuska inadvertently involved – the army is called in. Is it simply the riff-raff misbehaving or is it the devil’s work? The locals are not sure. In any case it is a superb book from Krasznahorkai.

Miklós Szentkuthy: Fejezet a szerelemről (Chapter on Love)

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.

Sándor Márai: Szabadulás [Liberation]

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.

Sándor Márai: A sziget [The Island]

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.

Zsuzsa Selyem: Moszkvában esik (It’s Raining in Moscow)

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.

Sándor Márai: Vendégjáték Bolzanóban (Casanova in Bolzano)

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.

Sándor Márai: Eszter hagyatéka (Esther’s Inheritance)

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.

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