KRISZTINA TÓTH: The Monkey’s Eyes

Krisztina Tóth’s latest novel is set in a bleak city in the bleakest of times. The scene is an isolated country that has recently been through a devastating civil war. The new government rules with an iron hand and society is fatally divided: those close to the government live in the more affluent parts of the city, while the poor are confined to ghettos. Blackouts are frequent and there is a growing shortage of goods. There are no signs of disaffection, however, thanks to tight surveillance and trolling sponsored by the state.

This is the desolate world in which Giselle, a history professor at the unitary New University, and the renowned psychiatrist Dr Kreutzer happen upon each other. The latter appears at first to be a self-assured professional but he is gradually revealed as a sex addict who picks his victims from his pool of patients: it is their vulnerability that sexually excites him.

The novel’s main theme is abuse. It is set in a world where state power has an abusive relationship with its citizens and where abuse likewise pervades personal relationships. Krisztina Tóth dispenses the details a drop at a time. A society that initially appears to be relatively normal, and the professional who seems trustworthy, both turn out to be ­– slowly but surely – unmanageably abnormal.

The title alludes to an infamous and cruel animal experiment in 1970, when the neurosurgeon Robert White carried out the transplant of one monkey’s head onto the body of another. The monkey came to after the operation and horrific images of it can still be found on the internet. In these the creature can be seen opening its eyes for a moment, becoming conscious and aware of what has happened to it, only to later succumb to its fate.

The exceptional deftness of Krisztina Tóth is in plentiful evidence in this new novel. The excitement and the engaging nature of the action is framed by the author’s lyrical vision and her robust sense of humour.

Krisztina Tóth’s dystopia joins a long and distinguished tradition: like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, it offers a frightening vision of a future whose chances of coming true – remote though they may be – are firmly rooted in the immanence of our present and so cannot be dismissed out of hand as something that could never happen.” Ernő Balogh, Népszava.hu

Product details
ISBN 978 963 1429 0 15
2022, hard cover with jacket
352 pages, 123×30 mm
4499 HUF

Krisztina Tóth


Krisztián Grecsó: Something Folksy

Short stories

In Grecsó’s new collection, many of the stories are born of the tension and confusion resulting from the meeting of two worlds. In some of the stories, these two worlds are the city and the village; in others, it is the present and the past. And, importantly, there is the world of the healthy and that of the sick. The severe illness from which the author has only recently recovered is a theme or motif in many of the stories.

The first part of the book consists of traditional ‘long’ short stories, where the point of departure is a scene or a place in the present which leads the narrator to recount some event in the past – in the 30s or 50s of the last century – with repercussions in the present. The stories in the second part, very personal in tone, are all about one man’s life at various points in time; those in the third are interrelated in the sense that the minor characters in one turn up as protagonists in others; and several of those in the fourth and final section are experiments in writing about happiness.

In narratives which oscillate between fiction, autofiction and autobiography, the author tells of village houses that are left half-completed, mere caricatures of their owners’ towering ambitions, and of places in Budapest that are missing from the tourist guidebooks, or that have already disappeared – like former factories replaced by sprawling housing estates. As for his characters, they come from all walks of life: we get glimpses into the lives of editors of literary magazines, unemployed Gypsy women, taxi drivers and shop assistants. Grecsó’s characters feel painfully alone in the crowd, yet this overwhelming loneliness is offset by the reader’s sense that our fates are intertwined, even if we are unaware of the fact, or indeed resist it. Grecsó loves and understands his characters, and there is in his stories an undercurrent of hopefulness, in spite of disappointments and tragedies.

Product details
ISBN 978 963 1441 55 0
2022, hard cover with jacket
288 pages, 125×280 mm
3999 HUF

Krisztián Grecsó


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


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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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