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EDINA SZVOREN: Sentences on Wonderment

Könyv: Mondatok a csodálkozásról (Szvoren Edina)

Short stories

Edina Szvoren’s fifth collection of distinctive short stories maintains the uniformly high standard of writing that we have come to expect from her. This volume nonetheless differs from the previous ones in that here the keynote of its unmistakably grotesque, absurd style is more playful, more humorous, and more light-hearted than in her earlier work.

In its structure, too, this volume is unusual. Sentences on Wonderment consists of three parts: an introductory piece only a few pages long; the “Ohrwurm notes”; and seven fairly long short stories.

In the volume’s title piece the narrator declares that for as long as she can remember, she has been incapable of wonderment because, in her view, anything can happen at any time. But since people expect that she should always be surprised, she tries constantly to pretend that she is indeed in a state of wonderment.

The twenty-nine pieces of the “Ohrwurm notes” – each no more than a few pages long – mirror our everyday world, which is nonetheless extraordinary, dominated as it is by compulsions, mysterious happenings, and curious ways of behaviour. Among these writings we find grotesque tableaux, such as “The blind folk in the cable car”, in which a blind couple enjoy their trip in a cable car heedless of anyone else. There are also parodies: “Bereg baroque” is a caricature of a piece that popularises a work of art, while “Fly-swatters on a human scale” parodies techniques of pseudo-scientific argumentation. There are also grotesque portraits: in one text we encounter a man who “makes curtain arguments”, that is to say, he has an extremely irritating habit of applying a metaphor about curtains in every kind of situation; in another, a woman whose days are spent taking security measures which ensure that a tiny creature terrified of her is able to escape; while “Horse panic”, as its title suggests, is about the many ways in which horses can fall into a panic. Some of the pieces are allegorical and dreamlike, while others are sinister; yet others are irresistibly humorous – but they all bear the hallmarks of Szvoren’s unique style.

As for the seven long stories, each tells a tale that has at its core the strange and difficult nature of human relations: relationships with parents, relatives, friends, and marriage partners. Often it is a tiny individual detail – a characteristic turn of phrase, an unnoticed, ingrained habit, an apparently insignificant gesture repeated for the hundredth time – that hints at what made a relationship fall apart, what was the misunderstanding, frustration, or human frailty that made an entire relationship turn sour and petty.  

As the critic Sarolta Deczki has noted: “Edina Szvoren performs what is one of the most important duties of art: she teaches us how to see, or – to be more precise – to see in a different way. It is impossible to imagine a more withering critique of society than dissecting it in this way, almost molecule by molecule, dispassionately and objectively. It is precisely because of this approach, thanks to her close attention to the minutest of details, that this world becomes surreal, grotesque and hence a critique of its very self.”

Product details
ISBN 978 963 14 2357 0
2021, hard cover with jacket
256 pages, 3499 HUF

Wonderment is a crack into which you can thrust your foot.

Edina Szvoren

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Gábor Schein: Oh, Rhinoceros

A novel in verse

Schein Gábor - Ó, rinocérosz

Gábor Schein’s new book is an entertainment: it imagines what would happen were the history of Europe and western civilization told by rhinoceroses. The story begins with Europa being carried away not by a bull but by a rhino, and ends with the anti-rhino media spreading the news that the source of the epidemic ­­– patient zero, as it were – was an Indian rhinoceros that was not prepared to quarantine.

And why a rhinoceros? The author provides the answer: because, unlike so many other animals, it lacks a mythology: it is a creature that has not been written about. But only until now: Gábor Schein’s work, which is narrated in turn by a rhino, Europa herself, scientists and journalists, consists of 154 short texts about rhinos: texts recalling articles from encyclopedias about the European history of rhinos; writing that suggests news items about the activities of rhinos; as well as the personal reflections and prayers of the rhino.

In the guise of the rhino the author recounts tales of Europe and of refugees, of colonization and the extinction of animal species, of Hungary, and not least of himself. But who is this rhino? A lumbering, anachronistic creature that is at the same time possessed of profoundly human desires – a creature in which are melded brutishness and delicacy of spirit, both hunter and hunted: a radically alien spirit in which we recognise the indecisive nature and the dualities of our own existence.

A late, absurdist relative of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Gábor Schein’s book is both playful and liberating.

The rhinoceros made a note: life is mere functionality, an operation that is an impersonal end in itself, disrupted only by inexplicable inquisitiveness and love without motivation and devoid of purpose.

Product details
ISBN 978 963 14 2466 9

2021, hardback
160 pages, 3299 HUF

Gábor Schein

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SZILÁRD RUBIN: Reunion in the Wolf’s Lair

In Szilárd Rubin’s only detective novel, published in 1973, it is pouring with rain on a cheerless autumn evening, the post-office has closed, and even the switchboard operator has gone home. The company of ten, though, who have gathered in the doctor’s flat in a little village in the mountains, revels in this cosy environment, isolated and sheltered from the outside world: the men are all old friends who were at school together, and this is their first reunion in fifteen years. They all know each other from way back, here there is no need to exercise their usual professional caution – or so thinks the detective inspector who is one of those enjoying himself.

But at the height of their revels a brutal murder takes place.  The murderer must be there among the nine survivors, smoking a cigarette with them at the elegantly laid-out dinner table, where they all wait in fear and trembling to see who will be next.  And suddenly someone slumps to the floor…

In the best traditions of the whodunit, the inspector at once sets about interrogating each suspect.  The relationships between those present are gradually revealed, and eventually it turns out that the entire class reunion was organised by the counter-espionage services.  With great precision and skill, Szilárd Rubin presents the various motives and interests at play and the devilish thoroughness with which the murder was plotted, administering the details in small, careful doses and making the reader work hard throughout to understand what is going on.

At the same time we are offered a panorama of post-World War II Hungarian society: “On top of the stock-in-trade motifs of sexual impropriety, greed and selfishness, we have the 1944 deportations, the Jews who escaped at the price of having to change their identity, the bourgeoisie who emigrated ahead of the ‘building of socialism’, the Transylvanian Hungarians’ resettlement in the motherland, and the informers, as well as the would-be informers.” (Lothar Müller, Süddeutsche Zeitung)

An exciting piece of genre fiction: a hugely entertaining mix of spy thriller and Agatha Christie-type village whodunit, and at the same time an astonishing feat of historical documentation. (Martin Lhotzky, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)

Szilárd Rubin

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KRISZTINA TÓTH: White Wolf

Tóth Krisztina - Fehér farkas’Every home is a different story,’ says the narrator of one of the sixteen short stories in White Wolf while looking for her own childhood home. Every unhappy home is unhappy in its own way – and so are the stories in Tóth’s new volume, in which the writer’s voice is darker and more radical than ever.

These are stories of trauma, oppression, submission, exclusion, stigma and violence. Many of them tell of painful secrets: childhood abuses, unpunished crimes, lost children – suffering that goes without punishment, apology and forgiveness.

‘I try to come to terms with the injustice and cruelty of this world with profound humility and try to understand the motivation of the perpetrators with compassion,’ Krisztina Tóth said in an interview. Her mostly nameless heroes are everywhere around us, stepping into the same elevator, running behind us on the staircase. Many of them are so wounded or tormented that they behave in strange ways. As ever, Tóth observes these people with her rare sensitivity and attentiveness to detail.

Product details
ISBN 978 963 1438 54 3
2019, hard cover with jacket
132 pages, 3499 HUF

“The secret, like some indestructible bacterium, was gnawing away at and destroying the bodies of every one of them, including her own.”

English excerpt available

Krisztina Tóth

Rights sold
English, Seagull

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JUDIT KOVÁTS: Expelled

Novel

Kováts Judit - Hazátlanok

It is 1944 and Lilli Hartmann, an ethnic German schoolgirl in Kežmarok, a small town at the foot of the High Tatras, lives her life, alongside her Hungarian and Slovak friends, far away from the war. But when the Slovak partisan revolt breaks out, this peaceful world is shattered: following pogroms against the ethnic German population, the Germans are evacuated to Austria and Germany. When the war ends, Lilli and her family set off to return home. Though they are fortunate enough to escape the mass murder of ethnic Germans in Přerov, her father is arrested as soon as they arrive in their hometown.

Although the war is over, for ethnic Germans there is no peace. Held collectively responsible for the war, their property is confiscated, Lilli’s father is sentenced to forced labour, while Lilli and the other female members of the family are first interned in Nováky, a former concentration camp, then expelled from Czechoslovakia and sent to a war-torn Germany where the refugees are not at all welcome. Hunger, illness, the yearning for a homeland lost forever, the death of loved ones – disaster follows upon disaster as Lilli gradually grows into a young woman who was robbed of her youth forever, but who copes with her predicament with much optimism and humour.

Lilli Hartmann is one of the more than twelve million ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary who were held collectively responsible for World War II and imprisoned, taken for forced labour, tortured, murdered, or expelled from their homeland. Her story is not only part of a chapter in the history of twentieth-century Europe that has been suppressed for too long, but the story of a refugee, of someone forced by history to leave her homeland, raising questions that are all too timely today.

 

A silenced story: how ethnic Germans were ousted from Eastern Europe after World War II

Product details
ISBN 978 963 1438 42 0
2019, hard cover with jacket
408 pages, 3999 HUF

German excerpt available

Judit Kováts

 

Rights sold
German, Nischen