Uncategorized

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

Uncategorized

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

Post navigation

Uncategorized

Anna T. Szabó: Exercises in Escapology

Short Stories

Könyv: Szabadulógyakorlat (Szabó T. Anna)

This is a book of love and death: Anna T. Szabó’s third collection of short stories is concerned with the body and the soul, with yearning and infatuation, with joy and the lack of it, with the glorious yet terrifying forces that inhabit human beings, with how we yield to – or rein in – our desires. The forty stories almost all concern the lives and fates of women, from teenagers to the elderly.

The short stories’ protagonists inhabit widely differing milieus, social classes and periods, yet their problems are similar: passion appears to be draining away from their lives, their frustrated desires threaten now to explode, now to end in apathy or depressed resignation. What Anna T. Szabó is most interested in is the instinctual in the depths of our well-ordered lives: whether passion can be civilised, and whether it is possible – and worthwhile – to love in any way other than in an all-or-nothing fashion. In the volume the reverberations of fierce and otherworldly passions meld with the sounds of attempts at a rapprochement with sober, everyday life, with the alternation and altercation between the past and the present, between the actual and the impossible.

Several of the stories connect with specific works of music, whether rock, pop, or classical, and the very modulation of the stories, the way they, too, swell and die away, affect us as if we were listening to music. As well as music, another important leitmotif of the volume is the mystical: tales of witches.

Exercises in Escapology unearths mysteries about identity and relationships which – though we may not yet have formulated them explicitly – will be familiar to every reader.

Where lies the boundary between love and clinginess? At what point can one say that a relationship has turned abusive? What does it mean to be fulfilled? Can one ever regain the passion of one’s youth? Is it possible to come to terms with growing old? (Kinga Forgách, Könyves Magazin)

Product details
ISBN 978 963 1440 18 8
2020, hard cover with jacket

224 pages
3499 HUF

Anna T. Szabó

Uncategorized

Tibor Noé Kiss: Unfathomable Landscape

Novel

Kiss Tibor Noé - Beláthatatlan táj

Following a car crash a young woman in her twenties falls into a coma. When he is not by her sickbed her father spends his time investigating the causes of the accident. On an estate near the motorway there live a brother and sister: though in adjacent rooms, they might as well be on two different continents. These four characters are the protagonists of the book and at the same time the story’s narrators. For all of them the accident turns out to be a life-changing event: finding themselves in a radically unfamiliar situation, the narrative of the lives that they have constructed for themselves is turned upside down and reordered.

Thus there are four narrators. The voice of Dorka, who is unconscious, is at first represented with intelligible sentences but these slowly disintegrate into phantoms, impressions, and fragments of consciousness, indicative of the fact that the young woman in a coma is coming ever closer to the end of her life. The voice of Dorka’s father, a divorced history teacher in his fifties, is characterised by suffering, self-reproach, and above all by burnout. The accident forces him to confront his own as well as his daughter’s past, and in so doing he finds an unexpected chance of a strange love affair.

As for the siblings living without their parents, the voice of the twenty-year-old young man is teeming with slang and vulgar language: he doesn’t go to school, he is not at work, and tries to make his aimless existence bearable through drugs and friends that even he finds intolerable. The fourth voice is that of his sister, the sensitive and introspective Zsófi, who has been left alone with her younger brother and thus obliged to grow up all too quickly.

Gradually light is shed on the dramatic and complex nature of this network of four characters. Dorka’s father meets and falls in love with the much younger Zsófi. Only at the very end of the novel do we discover that Zsófi’s job is to sit in front of CCTV screens, and that therefore she is very familiar with the circumstances of the car crash. She knows that it was Dorka who yanked the steering wheel aside to avoid three young men who dashed in front of her car. As she examines the footage, it dawns on Zsófi that one of them was her own brother.

This novel shows a clash between four characters, four different experiences of life, and two different social milieus, and although the lives of the actors become entangled, in reality they never meet, since the soundtrack in the head of each of them is quite different. The relationships between them may be a loving one, or that between parent and child, or brother and sister, yet in spite of this each remains in his or her own bubble, unable to take a step out of their individual consciousness, out of the landscape that the others find unfathomable.

People remain silent, just saying their piece, to themselves and by themselves.

Product details
ISBN 978 963 1440 18 8
2020, hard cover with jacket

320 pages, 125×197 mm
3699 HUF

Tibor Noé Kiss

Uncategorized

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