Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Katalin utca

Translator – Len Rix

Source – review copy

I am surprised I hadn’t reviewed Szabo already I had read the doo and Iza’s Ballad and had enjoyed both but it seems they may have both gone unreviewed. So I start with the latest of her books to be translated into English this is a new translation there was a translation a number of years ago but this is by Len Rix who has also translated The door by her. Szabo wrote post world war two and her initial works saw her fall foul of the Communist authorities in Hungary which meant she lost he job in the ministry and became a Teacher for a few years at a girls school.

Henriette always insisted that she had a perfectly clear memory of the day they moved into Katalin Street, but that could have hardly been true. If by “remember” she meant thing she could directly recall herself, then that extended only to the h=general upheavel and excitement, the train going over the bridges and the facesof one or two people who would play key roles later on in her life. Everything else had been told by her parents, by the Eleke’s family, or by Balint, who was the oldest of the four children and the one with the clearest recollection of events. Likewose, with the exception of a single sentence, her “recollection” of what had been said on that day had also come down to her, in all its detail, through her parents or the other children, she had after all, been just six years old when they moved from the country

The opening of thw 1934 section and the arrival of the Held’s on the street.

This is a tough book to get into. It is a strange collection of voice we come across in the opening. We here about the Elekes family Mrs. Elekes and the children of Katalin Street Balint, Iren and Blanka the sister of Balint who ends up in Greece telling her story and adding the story of Henriette Held the daughter of the \jewish Dentist. Then the novel becomes more straightforward as we have a number of different years that follow the children of the street from 1934. That is when the Jewish Held arrive on the street and quickly become part of the street Iren gets a gold card from her teacher her father is the head teacher much to the dismay of her sister Blanka the sort of wild younger sister the children of Major  Balint. Blanka notes Balint always had a thing for Iren. This is shown when the two of them get together. The father the Major tries to help the Held’s but is unable to stop them going to the deaths. Blanka is horrified by the war and post-war is a different person as we see via the Balint now a doctor working at the same hospital as Blanka. the street itself in 1956 is having a facelift as the old house they all lived has changed. The next two sections round of the stories of the Eleke’s parents, Iren their daughter the youngest now in Greece and son of the Major. Also, the spirit left behind of the young Henriette Held is there seeing the post-war times.

Even today I don’t understand why it was only then, and not much earlier, that I realised I was jealous of Henriette. Ever since she had moved into the street she had somehow belonged not just to all of us but especially Balint. That he had never smacked her as hard as he did either Blanka or Me was not in itself surprising, She wasn’t the sort of person you would ever want to hit, being so quiet and timid, and the smallest of the three, There was a certain pleasure in slapping Blanka, in pinching her leg ir smacking her bottom, but it was never like that with Henriette.

Iren remember the fragile Henriette in 1944 when she dies like her parents.

I was reminded of when I was a child and would get a jar or bucket full of creatures from a rockpool and watch them over the coming days some lived others as I was too young to know to need the changing tide to feed and were trapped in that rockpool I had caught them in. This novel like that Bucket is a microcosm of the rockpool. Szabo has gathered together four children and the parents like the little fish and shell creatures of the rockpool and we watch them over time. The events they see have changed Budapest and its own Microcosm forever from the end of the great Austro Hungarian years in 1934 till the shadow of the Nazi and the loss of the Held’s echoing so many others in the city. The post-war years and people like Blanka seeing the world with eyes afresh after the war and being changed by the war and what she saw. Szabo gathers the horror and the post-war communist suffering of Hungary. in fact, this novel is maybe one that needs reading now as we see the suffering of both sides here and the world before that in a brief glimpse at what was a better world before the chaos of the Nazi and Soviet eras of Hungary. Not the easiest book to get into but worth the last two-thirds of the book. Have you read Szabo or have you a favorite Hungarian writer?

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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 ?

 

 

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