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Judit Szaniszló: The Life of Leli

Novel

Írók Boltja

Leli browses among family photos and sets about describing them. The result is a family novel, or rather, fragments of a family novel, composed of chunks of memory. As the family photos are detailed, the past, narrated in the present tense, comes alive, populated with grandmothers who worked as servants; parents who lived in concrete blocks of flats in Miskolc, in the north of Hungary; and the narrator’s brother, who was born with spina bifida and spent much of his childhood in hospitals. Parallel to these stories of the past, Leli’s present is narrated in the past tense. We learn how Leli, who is forty-two and has diabetes, struggles with trying to conceive a child.

The Life of Leli is a novel about learning to communicate with our family members and how that is ultimately impossible. It is about loving and crying, illness and health, yearning and acceptance, and the pains and routines of love, told with tenderness and empathy.

Every slice of buttered toast one drops is merely the continuation of something; every edge’s edginess is the centre of some greater whole. Things don’t end just when someone declares they are over. You don’t begin where your mother ends. Death gyrates like a humming top round everyone’s life, knocking things over as it spins.

Product details
ISBN 978 963 14 4003 4

2020, paperback
264 pages, 3499 HUF

English excerpt available

Judit Szaniszló

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Géza Bereményi: A Hungarian Copperfield

Novel

Bereményi Géza-Magyar Copperfield (új példány) - konyvkolcso

A memoir of the author’s childhood and teenage years, Géza Bereményi’s book is a fascinating chronicle of post-war Hungary, taking in the 1956 revolution and the consolidation of the communist regime in the stifling 1960s.

Many of the novel’s characters and scenes are familiar from Bereményi’s film The Midas Touch, for which he received the European Film Award for Best Director in 1989. Especially memorable is the character of his grandfather, who worked at Budapest’s Teleki Square market where, according to Bereményi, in the turmoil after World War II even paintings by Velázquez were on sale.

Brought up by his grandparents, Bereményi was ten years old at the time of the 1956 revolution, and his rebellious teenage years coincided with the consolidation of an oppressive regime. Meanwhile, his mother, who gave birth to him at the age of seventeen and had left him in the care of his loving grandparents and the tenants of the block of flats where they lived, decided to remarry and take her son back to be educated by her new husband, an abusive medical doctor.

Bereményi describes his strategies in navigating this personal as well as historical-political predicament with a wonderful sense of humour, and the result is a coming-of-age novel which strikes the perfect balance between the spheres of the personal and the political, while avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia and pointless psychologizing. The reader learns how the happiness of his first six years, which he spent amid the love of his grandmother, who would read to him from the lives of the saints, and his streetwise grandfather, who taught him how to survive and how not to be the underdog, helped Bereményi to grow up to be the independent intellect that he is.

Populated with a rich and memorable cast of characters, A Hungarian Copperfield is a chronicle of Hungarian history and the testimony of an artist which feels fresh on every single page, narrated as it is with the sense of wonder and warmth so characteristic of its author.

How to be free under a dictatorship

Product details
ISBN 978 963 14 3437 8

2020, hardback
640 pages, 5499 HUF

English excerpt available

Géza Bereményi

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Gábor Schein: Autobiographies of an Angel

Novel

Egy angyal önéletrajzai · Schein Gábor · Könyv · Moly

The narrator of this novel is an angel who tells the stories of two people, remote from each other in time and space.

The story of Johann Klarfeld is set in the eighteenth century. Born and raised in a provincial German town, Johann leaves his mother and his siblings at the age of fifteen. In the course of his wanderings through German principalities and Flemish towns, he works as a barber’s assistant, then joins Count Frangipan’s cavalry, fighting in the war first on the French side and then on the German side as an orderly and is accused of espionage and arrested. He settles down for a while in The Hague, where he works for a painter of Italian origin and falls in love with his blind daughter. Rich in mysterious and fantastic elements, this story is reminiscent of the works of German Romantics of the likes of E.T.A. Hoffmann and Goethe.

The biography of the other character, Berta Józsa, a Hungarian girl born in 1943, and her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, provides a glimpse into the fate of a Hungarian family in the twentieth century who strove to survive that unpredictable and cruel century by trying to suppress and forget the past. “For although the world is close at hand and we have only to reach out to touch its furthermost nooks and crannies, it is no longer our home, nor will it ever be,” says the angel at the beginning of the book. It is this homelessness that is the main theme of both stories, a homelessness that both characters try to battle, to no avail.

The sense of not being at home in the world, the fear of being stigmatized, and the feelings of anxiousness and terror about one’s Jewish identity, dissipating over time yet impossible to eradicate – all these elements bind the two stories together into one, unforgettable, novel.

For although the world is close at hand and we have only to reach out to touch its furthermost nooks and crannies, it is no longer our home, nor will it ever be.

Product details
ISBN 978 963 67 6475 3

Jelenkor, 2009, hardback
240 pages, 2700 HUF

Rights sold
English, Yale University Press

English excerpt available

Gábor Schein

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Gábor Schein: Swedish

Novel

Könyv: Svéd (Schein Gábor)

After the 1956 revolution in Hungary, a childless Swedish civil servant adopts a Hungarian boy from a refugee camp in Austria. He and his wife never tell the boy, Ervin, that he is not their son by birth. Although they firmly believe that they gave Ervin a much better life than he would have been given by his original family, father and son gradually become more and more estranged, due to unspoken secrets and the absence of spontaneous feeling.

Trying to understand what went wrong between them, the father travels to Budapest to search for Ervin’s roots, on the basis of what scant information he was given at the time of the adoption. His search leads him to a psychiatrist in Budapest’s most renowned psychiatric hospital. Dr Bíró shows Mr Grönewald documents which prove that Ervin’s mother, a zealous communist, had been an inmate in that hospital after the 1956 revolution.

The father’s search for meaning is juxtaposed with the predicament of Dr Bíró, the dedicated psychiatrist, who is obliged to look for a job when the psychiatric hospital is closed down 139 years after its foundation – a scandalous piece of contemporary Hungarian history (the hospital was indeed closed down in 2007).

Can we leave our painful memories behind and still find our place in the world? This is the question raised by Schein’s beautifully written, meditative and low-key narrative of identity and memory, sanity and madness.

Can we leave our painful memories behind and still find our place in the world?

Product details
ISBN 978 615 54 5474 5

Kalligram, 2015, hardback
208 pages, 3499 HUF

English excerpt and complete German text available

Rights sold
Spanish, Acantilado
German, Friedenauer Presse

Gábor Schein

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Gábor Schein: We’ll Still Be Here

Novel

Megleszünk itt · Schein Gábor · Könyv · Moly

Kiefer, a maths teacher who lives alone and isolated in a provincial town in eastern Hungary, realizes that his life and his job are aimless and pointless. Once a talented and promising mathematician, he decided to move to this small town with his sister, a librarian, to teach in the local high school. After losing his sister and his job, Kiefer, considered a weirdo by the townspeople, decides to give up his former life and moves to a hut on the outskirts of town to complete a human experiment, conducted on himself. With harrowing accuracy, he notes down his reflections on the nature of power and on the devastation in and around him, as well as in the world at large.

The novel’s other thread involves a couple in their forties who are living through a marital crisis. Ágnes, who works as a typesetter, and her lawyer husband Zoltán, have an unhappy marriage. They have serious communication problems. While their characters are diametrically opposed, they nevertheless belong together. Ágnes moves to Zoltán’s father’s farm with their child, close to the town where Kiefer lives. The couple meet Kiefer, who is profoundly affected by this encounter.

Kiefer is a memorable character who lives a life of destitution and hopelessness but sees very clearly the social and political processes around him and in the wider world. In a way, his craziness and withdrawal from a world whose laws he is unwilling and unable to accept make more sense than the struggles of the ‘normal’ people in his milieu.

Rich in thematic motifs and narrative threads, Gábor Schein’s novel attempts to answer the question of what a person can do with their life, and what separates yet binds together people who are neighbours, but completely alienated from their own existence.

Man, first and foremost, fears for his own skin, wishing only to live in comfort, and for that reason comes to believe in violence, just as long as it is directed towards others, and even when — to his own misfortune — he himself becomes a victim. But above all, he always chooses a form of conduct he finds familiar, even if that makes him suffer.

Product details
ISBN 978 963 14 3856 7

2019, hardback
236 pages, 3699 HUF

English excerpt available

Gábor Schein