In this novel about Budapest in the 1950s, every character is lonely. Vera, the little girl adopted by a Jewish couple living in deepest poverty, the adoptive parents themselves, who are living with the wife’s mentally disabled sister, a survivor of Auschwitz, as well as all their relatives and neighbours – absence of love is the only state of mind these people have ever known. The life of these grotesque, unappealing and destitute–yet loveable–characters is determined by the terrible events of the mid-twentieth century: World War II followed by communism, and the Soviet intervention of 1956. Yet history and politics barely make an explicit appearance in Krisztina Tóth’s novel. As wars, occupations and persecutions come and go, her characters try to accommodate adjust to the situation without understanding it – as those who have been humiliated and insulted always do. However, their suppressed emotions sometimes surface revealing the horror of their situation in a condensed moment. This bleak, oppressive and cramped yet transparent world is like the aquarium that Vera’s adoptive father sets up in their tiny living room, having seen one in a doctor’s flat.
Krisztina Tóth’s novel is written in a style that is a unique blend of irony, black humour and naturalism, interspersed with lyrical and metaphorical passages seamlessly integrated into the narrative. Aquarium is a highly readable novel with unforgettable characters – from Vera, the vulnerable, ungainly orphan girl to Klári, Vera’s biological mother, a totally irresponsible eccentric and a compulsive liar.
Why did you want to sell that goose feather? What do you need the money for?’, she asked later as they were walking on the sidewalk in the hospital yard towards Infectious Diseases. ‘To become rich,’ the child answered matter-of-factly. The old lady stopped and gave her a serious look like someone who is about to utter an important message, a lesson for life. ‘Rich, eh?! But we are poor! Once poor, never rich. Never. Maybe you can become a poor girl who has money. But rich – never.”
Shortlisted for the Internationaler Literaturpreis 2015
ISBN 978 963 1430 93 6
2013, hard cover with jacket
328 pages, 123 × 184 mm
English excerpts and complete German text available