08. 12. 2012. 13:18

Cucumber season reading list

In the summertime, when school is out, kids are home, high tourist season kicks into gear and vacation beckons, one is faced with a paramount dilemma: the book shelf is too big to pack, but the absence of adequate reading material turns any seaside resort into a metaphorical desert. So in order to save the day, hlo.hu heartily recommends a list of (drumroll…) Hungarian Literature!

Yes, Hungarian literature has been known to captivate, entertain and even transpire in a seasonal summer context. Indeed, for a landlocked country, Hungary boasts some of the most beachworthy reading out there. It’s always best to travel light, so we’ve kept this list sensibly short, concise and uncumbersome. (As for the term cucumber season, it is a Hungarian idiom for a slow summer season: the right time to get reading!)

As one might well wonder what Hungarians like to read on vacation, our non-representative survey suggests that Jenő Rejtő is a definite candidate, in fact his nom de plume P. Howard is a a hallmark of classic, time-tested recreational reading. Available in English, his thirties crime novel Quarantine in the Grand Hotel is choice beach material: action, adventure, wry humor and highly unusual views of the Grand Hotel of Bali during a freak epidemic outbreak.

A more artistically abstract approach to summer brings to mind sunflowers and Gyula Krúdy’s novel of that name, Sunflower. Femmes fatále, magic and melancholy abound, a holiday must-read – and not only for established fans of the reputable knight of fogginess but also as a good place to start his expansive oeuvre. This singular author has a world of his own, take our word for it.

On the lighter side of fine literature, Miklós Vámos and his none-too-serious saga of twelve generations of fatherhoods of the Csillag family with a touch of magical realism. This is a version of the world, as seen through the eyes of firstborn fathers who all have an uncanny ability to see both back and forwards through time. The Book of Fathers passes as a bestseller in Hungary, and invites the reader on a trip though the three centuries of Hungarian history and the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

Perhaps less kaleidoscopic and more focused, Magda Szabó’s excellent novel The Door portrays a remarkable friendship between authoress Magda and the mysterious taciturn housekeeper, Emerence. Two very different people brought together by chance, sharing guilt and loss, unlocking the unspeakable past, before a tragic ending. Szabó’s partly autobiographical and intensely metaphorical book has also been made into a major motion picture.

Among other things, 2012 is the centenary year of István Örkény - and what better way to celebrate the renowned master of the one-minute tale, than to read his work? These masterful miniatures of absurd fiction distill the very essence of Hungarian humor. One minute stories make ideal summer reading, even for busy people with only limited time slots for reading – or only about as long as it takes to prepare a soft-boiled egg.





Dániel Dányi

Tags: István Örkény, Magda Szabó, Miklós Vámos, Gyula Krúdy, Jenő Rejtő, P. Howard