Fever at Dawn by Peter Gardos

Fever at Dawn

Fever at Dawn By Peter Gardos

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Hajnaliláz

Translator -Elizabeth Szász

Source – review copy

I was sent this very early this year its publishers have sent a lot of review copies out for a debut novel by the Hungarian film director Peter Gardos. He has directed a huge number of films since the early 1970’s . This book is also a film I will include the trailer for the film at the end of this review as I found it very touching. The book came about when Gardos father   passed away and he discovered a box of letters from when they first met shortly before he was born. That he was given to him by his mother these hadn’t been read since 1946.

Dear Nora, Dear Eresbet, Dear Lilli, Dear Zsuzsa, Dear Sara, Dear Serena, Dear Agnes, Dear Giza , Dear Baba, Dear Katalin, Dear Judit, Dear Gabriella…..

You are probably used to strangers chatting you up when you speak Hungarian, for no better reason than they are Hungarian too. We men can be so bad-mannered. For example, I addressed you by your first name on pretext that we grew up in the same town. I don’t know whether you already know me from Debrecen. Until my homeland ordered me to “Volunteer” for forced labour, I worked for the independent newspaper, and my father owned a bookshop in Gambrinus Court?

Excuse me for writing in pencil. but I’m confined to bed for a few days on doctor’s orders, and we’re not allowed to use ink in bed

Miklos letter to the 117 woman from his hometown in refugee camps in Sweden .

Miklos has ended up in Sweden in the chaos that followed the end of the second world war having been liberated from Belsen , he has ended up at a refugee camp. But he hasn’t a bright future he has been told he has just six months left in this world so this crafty chap gets someone to get a list of all the woman in Sweden from his home town in Hungary. The list ends up with 117 names so he spends time writing a handwritten letter to each of them. HE sends them out not knowing what will happen . He gets a reply from Lili  a woman touched by his letter but also a daydreamer so what happens is a love in letters as the two start to write to one another in the chaos of the post war years this shining light of a love blossoming that slowly drags the half dead Miklos to life and away from death.As both have wounds from Belsen to recover from the strength of the love built-in words show the power of words to sooth the soul.

Dear Miklos,

I’m unlikely to be the person you were thinking of, because, Though I was born in Debrecen, I lived in Budapest from the age of one. Nonetheless, I’ve thought a lot about you. Your friendly letter was so comforting that I would be happy for you to write again.

That was a half truth pf course. Confined to bed with a strange new illness, out of fear, by way of escape or just to stave off boredom, Lili allowed herself to daydream

Touched by his letter and to break her own Boredom Lili writes back and the story starts off ..

What is not to like in this well I am a romantic and I love stories like these. I love that Peter found his fathers and mothers letters and worked them into this book. I just love the sheer chance of the story a Hungarian man and woman fall in love in the utter chaos of post war europe in Sweden one dying the other looking for a way to live both wanting a new future and all this story told by their own son sixty years later. It is one of those true stories that almost seem unreal. The two characters stories draw you in the lament for their past that they know after Belsen will never be there again the city the grew up in is for ever changed.This is one of those books I’m sure people will talk about a lot about this book for a book club as it touches your soul if like me you are romantic and believe in love conquering all .Here is the trailer I love this trailer .

 

 

Seiobo there below by László Krasznahorkai

Seiobo there below by  László Krasznahorkai

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Seiobo járt odalent

Translator – Ottilie Mulzet

Source personal copy

Just a perfect day
Drink Sangria in the park
And then later
When it gets dark, we go home

Just a perfect day
Feed animals in the zoo
Then later
A movie, too, and then home

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

I choose perfect day by Lou Reed as it mix part of what is in this book there isn’t a perfect day and this wasn’t one but seemed it .

I wonder if I am the only one that tends to go the other way in times of trouble and read the tougher books to read when in times of trouble . So I found myself picking up my second novel to read by Krasznahorkai , the other week of course I had been remind I has it when he won the recent man booker international award .Krasznahorkai is best known for Satantango which is the other book by him I have read . He has since the fall of the soviet bloc traveled the world hence this novel which is written 20 plus years after Satantango  is set mainly in japan but also in various places and times . He has spent the last decade in both Japan and China .

Everything around it moves , as if just this one time and one time only , as if the message of Heraclitus has arrived here though some deep current , from a distance of an entire universe in spite of all the senseless obstacles , because the water moves .

The opening lines .

 

The premise of Seiobo there below is the Japanese goddess once every 3000 years has a peach tree in her garden that bares fruit and this fruit gives who ever eats it immortality . Now she decides to search for perfection on the earth thus setting up the sequences of stories that follow in the book as we see her follow various artist actors and such .Trying to find what is perfection but is perfection what it seems , is that great actor the face every one sees when he acts , or is he different behind the scenes ? How do you get the perfect colour for that picture .What makes great art and is their great art with great artist , do great artist make great art .Each story leads some how in some way to the next as we follow Seiobo on her quest .

Well as you see as ever something seems to escape me in Krasznahorkai  writing  but l, I can put my finger on it here for me as a reader it is time . This is like me being given Boy and Actung baby  by u2  or even Tender prey and push the sky away by Nick cave . Now these are all great records but can you list to Boy then actung baby ? it is like I have broken the sequence as with this book which chapters follow the Fibonacci sequence maybe I have jumped in my reading of him from boy to actung baby and am feeling a bit disjointed .I mentioned Nick Cave as to parapharse him when he was speaking to Blixa Bargeld in the documentary 20000 day on earth he wish he had learned to edit at an earlier age , but why to me Satantango is Krasznahorkai Tender prey rough uncut and totally addictive , but for me I feel I have to read the other books by him in english and at a later date return to this one to fully get the sense of this as a book .As for now I was reminded of the film pi by Darren Aronfsky , which sees a young mathematician driven to madness by the search for perfection in maths like that Seiobo search for the perfect person to receive the peach is actually a flawed one art is in the eye , the moment , the time , the subject and can be perfect for only a split second .So i will return with a longer review after I have in a few years read his other books as I get hold of them in english .

Do you like jumping about  in a writers life ?

The notebook by Agota Kristof

notebook

The Notebook by Agota Kristof

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Le grand Cahier

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personnel copy

 

 

 

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 

Source  Nelson Mandela 

 

Well I’m back after a couple of weeks and have decide to start with one of those books we al have read and the second we put it down would happily read it again a real breath taking novel .Agota Kristof is a writer a bit like this blog that covered Europe in her life itself .She came from Hungary ,but escaped just to become an exile in the 1950’s in Switzerland .She start to write in french at the age of 51 after studying french ,this book came out in 1986 originally .It won the Austrian lit prize as I say a write like this blog that in her life spent time all round Europe .The notebook (or grand notebook in french although that means slightly more in the french ) was the first of what became a trilogy of novels the other two are called The proof and The third lie .

We call her grandmother

People call her the witch ,She calls us “sons of bitch ” .Grandmother is small thin .She has a black shawl on her head .Her clothes are dark grey ,she wear old army shoes ,When it’s fine ,she walks barefoot .Her face is covered in wrinkles ,brown spots and warts with hair growing out of them .She has no teeth left ,at least none that can be seen

Their first impression of the grandmother isn’t great .

The notebook is the story of two children Twin brothers  ,who just before the outbreak of world war two are left in a small village with the Grandmother .Now this book is their account of this time from the war to the Soviets taking over after the war .We see the world through their eyes but also the cruellness  of this world .The grandmother isn’t bother about them and takes the money their parents send for herself .Now this village has a wonderful collection of oddball character a cobbler that helps them out because he hates the Witch as their grandmother is known within the village ,A sad girl with a horrific harelip ,who just wants to be loved but finds it in all the wrong places especially in one eye-opening scene in the book ,An officer that very cruely treats the twins .The booys quickly learn that to get what they want and to survive the shifting worlkd they are caught in as we see what we may assume is Hungary (we aren’t actually told ) but could be anyone of half-dozen countries that are caught first by the Germans and then as the war is ending the Soviets overrun the country and bring the communist system in .

We put on dirty ,torn clothes ,take off our shoes ,dirty our faces and hands .We go out into the street ,we stop and wait .

When a foreign officer comes by ,we raise our right hands to salute him and hold out our left hands.usually the officer walks on without seeing us ,without looking at us .

They beg from the Armies in the village as they pass by as they get so little from their grandmother .

Now the beauty of this book is the voice of the two brothers ,it just comes across as such a real childlike voice ,it is hard to capture how children speak and think probably for me Andres Neuman recently caught it well in talking to ourselves  ,like that book this is about how the kids see their world ,we as the reader naturally fill in the blanks between Kristof words .She shows the brutal nature of war through a child’s eyes so time and place even at times which army it is are missed just that the war is happening .Kristof also capture in the Harelipped girls story a broken person scrapping by in the world as the boys try to get to know her by first learning this girl’s horrific way of finding love .This is the second book by CB editions I have read this year and they are a publisher I will be looking closer at the back catalogue to find if they have anymore gems their . My first entry for women in translation month 

Have you read this book ?

Oliver VII by Antal Szerb

oliver VII Antal Szerb

Oliver VII by Antal Szerb

Hungarian Fiction

Original title – VII. Olivér

Translator – Len Rix

Source personnel purchase on kindle

Antal Szerb is another writer that was rediscovered by Pushkin press .Antal Szerb was born to Jewish parents ,but was baptised into the Catholic church ,studied Hungarian German and English ,lived in France and Italy ,even spent a year in England .this book was originally issued  in 1924 in Hungary as though it was a translation from English as due to his Jewish heritage it couldn’t be published in his homeland .He later  was deported and died in a concentration camp in 1944 .

The situation in Alturia was as follows. Simon II, father of the present king, Oliver VII, had been an outstanding ruler, and the country had suffered in consequence ever since. He modernised the army uniform, established elementary schools, introduced telephones, public ablutions and much else besides, and all this benevolent activity had exhausted the state finances. Besides, as we all know from our geography books, the Alturian people are of a somewhat dreamy nature, fanciful and poetically inclined.

How he came to the throne .

Oliver VII is set in a fiction middle European state Alturia a small state that only exports a few products .But this country  is maybe a mix of all the lazy traits of Europe nations  as the people the King Oliver VII reigns over are actually the most care free and relax bunch ,also  huge dreamers and the King himself is like his subjects so hatches a mad plot to pretend to stage a coup and the return at a later date he in fact overthrows himself  ,then goes and travels too Italy and there falls in with a bunch of Con people who leads to whole unexpected turn of events for the King .

 

King Oliver entered his capital amid general rejoicing. The streets were a-flutter with flags; the Westros department store was adorned with huge portraits of Oliver and Princess Ortrud, seemingly made from entire rolls of silk and broadcloth; mothers held their children up to catch a glimpse of the happily waving King, and loyal inscriptions such as ‘King Oliver—King of our Hearts’, and ‘We cannot live without Oliver. Long live the Great Triumphal Return!’ were daubed on walls.

When Oliver VII finally returns to Alturia .

Now this book is what I love about Pushkin in a shell ,had they not found and brought Szerb to English readers we would missed this central European lterary Gem .The book is part farce ,part satire .But also maybe a huge comment on what matter as the people of Alturia are poor but happy .There is also a sense of maybe the Europe describe in the book at the time Szerb was writing the book of course mid world war two the idyllic scenes and lives he imagined of the king and his subjects was dying out .I also felt this remind me of the humour of Palin and co in their ripping yarns it has that feel of being just left of real almost believe so yes a tale of a king wanting time of and finding the perfect plan by doing a imagine over throw ,also the american film wag the dog tackled a similar concept in a modern setting instead of a coup using an imagine war .Another book that shows me what is great about small publishers and also translation ,because yes there are many stoners out there, but on the other hands there is loads of Szerb awaiting discovery to use English readers still .

Have you read Szerb ?

 

 

The inflatable Buddha by Andras Kepes

Kepes The Inflatable Buddah_coverW

The inflatable Buddha by Andras Kepes

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Tövispuszta

Translator –   Bernard Adams

Andras Kepes was educate in Europe ,Latin america and the middle east as he grew up .He  the wnet on to  study  to get a  degree in aesthetics  and then studied further in the US .He then he  became from the 1980’s onwards a well known figure on Hungarian tv as an interviewer of figures connected with the arts world  he is like a Hungarian  Melvyn Bragg.He has written a number of books ,this is his first to be translated into English .

He was a great fan Isri , and his unreserved enthusiasm rubbed off on him .This particularly because even in elementary school David had done Isti’s homework for him .It didn’t bother David at all that the teacher gave him a worse mark than Isti. “Comes of being ” Jewish Isti would say patting David’s face ,and they would laugh together .

Even early on David being Jewish was noticed by his friends and what it meant to some .

The inflatable Buddha or as its Hungarian title translates  as thorn bare. It follows the life of three boy growing up ,through the 20th century in Hungary ,as the back cover says an experience that has been more than others have in their entire history .So the story starts when the boys are young in the 1930’s .Pal , Isti and David form a close bond early on and then as they see the war come on as they are an upper class boy working class boy and  Jews as the war appears on the scene they find there lives separate and bonds broken then after he war they drift apart but some how keep in touch eventually all arriving back in the childhood home .Meanwhile the country of their birth is tumbling through tough times we see how the events of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 affect the three now men and there young families ,the tough times after that due soviet crack down .Then how the changes after the fall of communism and the new freedoms and how they effect people .A wonderfully well crafted tale of how Hungary in its own way has been involved with most of the Major events of the 20th century and how it effect three boys that became men ,husband ,fathers  they all at some point left and then returned to their home town  which is own by the Baron of the village  .

Isti had been to Budapest only twice before the wat and now looked in amazement at the destruction wrought on the city , the houses disembowelled ,their  spines of their roofs broken and the bridges which hung crippled and wrecked , into the Danube ,it was as if he saw his own deformed leg everywhere .

The post war world needed to be rebuilt .

Well I read Parallel stories last year which thou narrative is  a more complex take on Hungarian and east European history during the 20th century  ,but this book has the feel of being a more  personal  take on the times  than  the Nadas book was and for me it worked better as a novel about being Hungarian during the 20th century on a personnel level  rather than being viewed as a part of the whole story .The three boys are a good cross-section of Hungarian society and show how some fall ,some rise and some had to escape Hungary during the 20th century .But above all else what  comes out of the book ,is the bond of friendship and how it can survive those changes no matter what .

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