When years ago his friend called him to say there was something he wanted to talk about, Balázs Györe had no idea this friend was going to announce that he regularly informed on him in the 1970s.
My Friends Who Informed on Me, written in the wake of this conversation, as well as later, similar discoveries, is a book on friendship: betrayed friendship. Györe tells the story of a confidential investigation through documents, reports, evaluations and quotations from his previous books.
This is a documentary novel written with nerves of steel, and it requires similarly dauntless readers. The whole book was written with a sentence in mind, one that the author had already quoted in another book, and repeats here: “Documents speak, words are drowned by time” (Sándor Bródy). This novel is the narrative of a possible version of confrontation with the past and with the figures of the past, now unmasked.
The title is meaningful, yet it does not explain everything: in Hungarian, it says literally “My friends, who were also my informers”. And what else were these people, beyond friendship, beyond their career as agents? The sad, hopeless marionettes of a regime? Significant characters in the author’s life? Negative factors, symbols of disorientation, of weakness and surrender? The answers can be found in the book, though only vaguely, and only if one delves deep into it.
The story is simple. While doing research in the archives, Balázs Györe was confronted with the fact that his old friends used to work as agents, and they regularly reported on him as well. What is at stake in this book is whether one can come to terms with this discovery, and if yes, how. Is language an appropriate medium to express such an appalling fact? What is friendship? And at what point was it lost?
While others have tried to write up their uneasy relationship with the Communist regime with irony, sarcasm or a darker variety of humour, Györe remembers and records things in a strict and serious tone. Recording things has become almost a fixation for Györe. From the endless flow of events, he picks up small pieces of life and episodes that are threatened with annihilation.
There are several narrative stances in the book. One is the exploration and interpretation of reality on a superficial level, the pile of information based on the informers’ reports about Györe’s activities that are considered as a threat for the Communist regime. After the uncannily matter-of-fact reports, suddenly there are passages in which the author reminisces about his private life and offers sharp insights. These two narrative modes are in strong contrast, and this bizarre game is kept up throughout the book.
Through the reports – the first-person singular utterances of informer friends – complete with documents and facts, the author describes the 1970s and 80s, the period immediately preceding the change of regime, without letting himself be carried away by the overflowing emotions caused by the bitter shock. Györe does not say a word about the regime, he lets the documents speak – the documents, and the agents with a human face.
We do not learn whether the author forgave the informants. Or if he is angry with them at all. The documentary novel is not an emotional genre, as Györe knows all too well, so he does not give in to rambling and to a facile transgression of rules.
There is no absolution at the end of the book. This is Györe’s unalterable opinion about the whole thing, this feeling that suggests mistrust and disorientation: that there is no absolution. “There are some permanent characters in my life. They are reliable. I know how they behave. They are what they are. Will there be new ones? I do not think so. The old ones… I’ll try to stick to them.”
Györe’s idea about clear and sincere utterance is a narrative that tries to explore the unspeakable. This ‘novel’, born of the dynamics of confrontation, is another literary document of an age that still remains unexplored in Hungary.
Györe Balázs: Barátaim, akik besúgóim is voltak
Budapest: Kalligram, 2012
Tags: Balázs Györe