One of the Hungarian literary sensations of the last decade, Jadviga's Pillow (1997) was an oddity in Hungary, being both a critical and a public success. The novel, portraying life in a Slovak village in Hungary between the two world wars, was recently published in German under the title Das Kissen der Jadviga.
In 1996 I visited Hungary for the first time in 18 years. I came from New York with my laptop and a thoroughly Americanized mind. I found the country completely different from the grey death camp I left almost two decades ago. It was now a bursting, yet somehow utterly depressed and depressing Balkan bazaar, a kind of Mad Max land in King Ubu’s empire, where most people I met were in a bad mood.
Over the recent period, a number of authors have left contemporary Hungarian literature and entered the national pantheon who had one crucial trait in common, namely, that they may fairly be called the last "big game" of modern day Central and Eastern European literature.
The plot of Casemates is based on the darkest moment of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution: the siege of the Communist Party Headquarters in Budapest. With the 50th anniversary of the revolution well nigh, this is no one's idea of a flattering, commemorative play. Rather, it is an excoriating piece of provocation.
Agota Kristof (70) paid a brief visit to Budapest for the first time after four years. This time, she was participating in the 'Exile' programme focussing on emigrant authors from Eastern Europe. Agota Kristof arrived in Neuchâtel as a refugee in 1956 with her husband and young baby, and she has lived there ever since.
The nationalist opposition was all over the media in an instant, declaring themselves to have been right all along in warning the voters throughout the election campaign that a secret network of ex-Communist, international bankers who are totally insensitive to the problems of the average Hungarian would take over the country if people elected a Socialist government.
On September 11, while the world was busy commemorating the attack on the Twin Towers, a small group of scholars and intellectuals gathered in Collegium Budapest – a beautiful, ancient building in the Castle District – to discuss their thoughts on exile in Eastern Europe.