Parallel stories by Peter Nadas

Parallel stories by Peter Nadas

Hungarian fiction

Translator Imre Goldstein

When I was asked earlier in the year to review Parallel stories I said yes, no problem and when it fell on the doorstep all 1100 plus pages of this modern epic I thought have I made a mistake ,but no I decide to set aside a couple of weeks to work my way through this modern masterpiece ,I finished it a few weeks ago but struggled with how to review it how to pay justice to Nadas vision and scope this book is deep and so multi layered it is hard to sum up with out drifting of into the individual and multiple story lines in this book so I then had to think of a different way of conveying the book and then it struck me the other day when I said in my thoughts how do you cover a master piece then it hit me describe the book as thou it was a piece of art using loose ideas and AI d be able to catch the spirit of the book .

Scene –

Well Nadas has sat down and drawn time from the centre point this is 1956 and 1961 two turning points in Hungary’s modern history in the context of this book the first the revolution that the russians so violently crushed ,the other is set in the bathhouse in Budapest where the three main characters that feature in the book talk about the city all have shady pasts and form the main body of the book .Nadas expands the lines out to recent history be it in Hungary or Germany and back to pre world war two and how this effect the Hungary on the fifties and sixties in this way showing how the events that happened in these two years happened and how the affected the future like a newtons cradle as what happened in 38 or 44 having a knock on effect via these two years to the modern world .



the sketches are the outlines of the three main characters there are a number of others but the three main ones are Hans von Wolkstein his mother was german and had a dark link to the Nazis regime in the war ,Agost from a connected Hungarian family his father served in a number of posts for different governments in Hungary and the last and maybe the darkest character is Andras Rott he is a spy and has very dark ideas .Like a spider’s web these three characters connect to most if not all of the people involved in the stories whether it is there parents stories or the lovers or lovers families all the little vignettes that make the most part of parallel stories connect to the three main stars of the narrative .

For a moment she thought Agost has gone mad .That he’d really lost his mind …..

and she would have loved tp love – no, worship his ankles ,his wrists hi every part ,his cock and every little bone in his body ,even impalpable things like the curve of the arches of his feet ,she adored him .

Agost future with about him .



Well this is a post modern book and like a classic post modern art the rule book of writing has been thrown out ,we drift from crime ,through highly erotic prose and into political drama oh and if you want any indication as to when people are talking forget it Nadas isn’t a fan of quotation marks but it is no harder than Ulysses in that regard .This book is like a collage of different styles that may on the surface seem chaotic , but as you work your way through they all seem to drop into place and in some ways the jarring styles works and yes it jumps from sex to the political but hey doesn’t real life a lot of the time ?


well when I first thought of the way to describe the book like art ,two things came to mind and that was Goya’s spanish french war pieces those horrific torture sketches and the art of Francis bacon ,like bacon Nadas takes the formal eastern european history especially hungarian history , which is the frame of the book like Bacon used the pope image or the crucifix but like Bacon Nadas has taken a personal view of these matters and yes here it is sex, sex and even more sex .This book is littered with sex ,good ,bad and downright vile sex but this is the flip people with no real freedom they find freedom in sex so that is what Nadas describes the end of book one is a novella length chapter that follows one grandiose act of sex between Agost and his future wife .So like the bacon at first you are a little scarred of the images but you then look beyond the picture to the painter and the same is said of Parallel stories Nadas describes the act of sex so well in places he must have had some practice whilst writing the book also the lexicon of rude parts is used to the max her bodily parts are described and over described at times .The connection to the Goya is politics how it plays a part war and conflict, from the nazi regime and the aftermath of that to communism and its faults .The Budapest revolution and lost freedom but how that one event affect the three main characters .

His black shirt and black pants ,wet with other mens urine and filthy with their sperm ,stuck to his back ,chest ,bottom and thighs they clung to him ,adhered to him like a skin ,white-hot with shame .

a scene from book two to give you an idea of the sex content of the book .



The final painting –

Well Parallel stories isn’t going to be to every ones taste to say the least it is not an easy read it needs time having read 2666 and Don Quixote in the last couple of years does it stack up against them yes long books tend to drift and diverge and this does maybe more than 2666 but not as much as Don Quixote .Is it gonna stand the test of time yes in my opinion it seems to lift the veils on the personnel lives of post war eastern Europeans more than any other book I ve read has this takes you in the bedroom even into the toilet more than you may want to know but sometimes you need a little uncomfortable in your reading not everything is comfortable in the world and nadas reminds you of this time and time again .It took Nadas eighteen years to write this book and Imre Goldstein a further five to translate her work on this book has made it accessible to the English reader Hungarian is a very hard language to translate from and she has done a sterling job here ,this is a strong IFFP contender and helps Nadas Nobel claims even more .

Have you a favourite Hungarian writer ?

Do you like post modern fiction ?

27 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. WordsAndPeace
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 01:39:01

    Glad you enjoyed. I read some Hungarian writers decades ago and enjoyed them, so I thought I would try Nadas. I even visited Hungary back in 1988 and fell under the spell of the country, and remembered the amazing descriptions of landscapes, etc. Alas, I had to quit after 60 pages or so. I devoured 1Q84 in no time, but that’s a total different world, no pun intended, and review upcoming! Emma


  2. Bellezza
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 02:57:16

    Long books do tend to drift and diverge; I just finished 900+ of them for 1Q84, but the great part about a long book is one really is allowed to dwell within its pages…and with its characters…for quite some time. I bought this in hardcover (for my mother) and in e-reader for my nook based on your prior posts. I’m really looking forward to digging in (perhaps over winter holiday?).


  3. whisperinggums
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 05:40:16

    Love your solution to writing on this book Stu. Sounds a fascinating read. The only Hungarian books I’ve read, that I recollect, are two by Imre Kertesz: Liquidation and Fateless (or Fatelessness, depending on the translation). I liked them both, particularly the latter.


  4. Lisa Hill
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 08:58:03

    I agree with Sue, this is a great way to respond to the book – don’t be surprised if I try doing the same thing myself one of these days!


  5. Tony
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 09:55:16

    Well, I’m a sucker for a monster book, especially when it’s a foreign-language one, so I may have to try this at some point 🙂 Definitely sounds hard to summarise, so well done for giving it a go Stu!


  6. Parrish
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 21:04:01

    great solution & as a fan of the post modern & books you have to live in for a period of time this sounds interesting.


  7. Violet
    Nov 16, 2011 @ 00:52:16

    What a great review! I don’t think I would want to read it, but you certainly found a clever way to describe the book, which sounds every bit as weird and beguiling as Ulysses. I don’t mind a long book, but it has to be pretty good to hold my interest for 1000 pages.


  8. Nana Fredua-Agyeman
    Nov 16, 2011 @ 15:39:45

    This is a great book. Such books are difficult to review and you’ve done a great work.


  9. Kinna
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 18:47:33

    Ah Stu, fantastic. I love the way you wrote about it. I may adopt it. And I think you ‘vedone the book justice. I got a real sense of what it’ss about. Epic is what this book is. I’m going to read it after I’ve read his Book of Memories. I like post modern fiction if like this, it gets into the lives of people. thank much for the review.


  10. Max Cairnduff
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 16:55:25

    No harder than Ulysses, well, there’s a relief.

    I thought your comparisons with Goya and Bacon fascinating, and a nice way to bring out some of the book’s character. Generally actually I thought you really brought this one to life Stu, so thanks.

    On sex in literature incidentally, the best book I’ve read with extensive sex scenes is Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime (which I review over at mine actually here: Amazing how rarely it’s done well though. There’s a reason there’s a bad sex award for bad writing on the topic.

    I’ve reviewed two Hungarian novels so far at mine ( and they were both superlative. Of course we only get the best, but the country does appear to have a very strong literary tradition. In answer to your second question, I have an increasing interest in modernist fiction which puts this one on my future radar.

    Anyway, great review, thanks.


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  15. farmlanebooks
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 13:05:01

    For some mad reason I just came home from the library with this. I’m a bit worried that you said it is harder to read than 2666, but I’ll give it a go. I’m coming to enjoy longer books more as I age too.


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November 2011


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