The recent publication of Sándor Márai’s novella, Esther’s Inheritance, provides not only a new addition to a steadily growing list of Márai works available in English, but also raises a series of provocative questions in a debate that has occupied critics since the unprecedented international success of the author’s novel, Embers, in 2000.
There are poets who are moved to write by the radio waves of language. Others simply look – they look until they see that what they see is not what they see. It is not a pipe, it is not a rose, it is not a bouquet of tulips. Until that certain "watermark" appears, "from which we may state that behind the startled and mundane actualities something must be standing in complete motionlessness."
As we contemplated Jack London’s birthday on January 12th, we were curious to know the reading tastes of Hungarian young people. We discussed opposition between classic and contemporary youth fiction in Hungary. What is most popular among them today? Is it the rewritten classics, the trendy vampire stories or the favorites of their parents’ generation?
”It irritates me more than anything when the translator takes upon herself or himself to redress a political imbalance by mangling a perfectly open text just to show that they are not simply co-opting it.” – Poet-translator George Szirtes answers questions by HLO’s brother site, Litera, as part of a series of interviews with translators.
A new book by Márai has come out in English. Esther’s Inheritance (1939), the fourth novel by the ”bard of the Hungarian middle class” in English, after Embers, Casanova in Bolzano and The Rebels, was published by Picador in Britain and Knopf in the States, in the translation of George Szirtes.
"In the beginning, there was Boredom. And thus sayeth the Lord: Let there be Amusement, for I’m beginning to doze off. And He came up with the idea of a bunch of little globes; He knocked them together for a while, back and forth. He entertained Himself that way for six days. On the sixth day He gave a great big yawn, and almost fell asleep again. And then, quickly, He came up with the idea of the human being."
"...if I have a delusion, I am insane. But you just said that I am insane. In that case, my belief is not a delusion, but a correct idea. Therefore I have no delusion. Therefore I am not, after all, insane. It is only a delusion that I am insane; hence I have a delusion; hence I am insane; hence I am right; hence I am not insane." – Two sketches from the 1930s on the traps and paradoxes of psychiatry, translated by Thomas Szasz, the renowned antipsychiatrist.
A collection of poems by András Gerevich entitled Tiresias's Confession has been published in English by Corvina, Budapest. "It is one of the most difficult things in the world to write poems so clear, so pellucid, so free of metaphor and simile as to be almost pure speech", writes poet George Szirtes, one of the translators.
In many crucial respects, Géza Ottlik differs from the majority of the great figures of Hungarian literature. In his youth, he was a track-and-field runner; at university, he studied mathematics, and he could play bridge on a professional level. His Adventures in Card Play (written together with Hugh Kelsey) is considered as one of the greatest and most original books on bridge theory ever.
Attila Bartis’ Tranquility was published in English in October 2008 by Archipelago Books. The novel, which figures on the long list of the Best Translated Book of the Year award, is narrated by the writer son of a once celebrated, elderly actress, who had gone mad and has refused to leave her apartment for fifteen years.