12. 02. 2013. 09:53

Singing River; Pearl Sand (excerpts from two novels)

In this fast-flowing tale, we are whisked back in time to the magical beginnings of the village, back to Adam and Eve’s very age of innocence. Slowly we realise that time may sprint ahead, but the human heart and soul can’t keep pace.

Singing River

In Kandicsfalva, the magical little village on the banks of the River Tisza, it’s still the old folks who decide what is Right and what is Wrong. A good butcher’s wife Must Love Blood, end of story.

But Mari is beginning to dislike the smell of blood. That and anything connected to her husband. This village art teacher’s dream of becoming an artist has long been crushed. Then one enchanted afternoon she is struck by a feeling. This is it. Now or never. And just then, like a celestial blessing, a travelling gypsy artist appears in the village. The lovers escape, the thickets of the flood plains shrouding their secret. But the blessing soon turns into a curse.

In this fast-flowing tale, we are whisked back in time to the magical beginnings of the village, back to Adam and Eve’s very age of innocence. Slowly we realise that time may sprint ahead, but the human heart and soul can’t keep pace.

The characters woven into this insular little world outgrow their former selves, and become heroes by the end of the novel, making earth-shattering decisions, or merely suffering the consequences of indecision. Elements of Hungarian folk tales parade through the plot and language of the novel; the very traditions which define European culture. Unadulterated joy and humour saturate the whole novel; stirring, mysterious, raucous, yet finally disquieting.

In 2007 the novel won a special prize in Hungary for the originality of its plot and inventive linguistic humour.


Excerpt from the novel

Anka Sztojka had never seen a motorboat. She was lolling under the leafy parasol of an old weeping willow in her Grandfather’s garden, leafing through Anna Karenina, when she heard the hum of the motor coming from the river. She put the book down, clung on to the draping branches and observed motionlessly. The willows’ summer snowflakes hovered above the glassy Tisza, held by the wind’s breath. The prow blew foamy waves, and Anka was delighted to see the boat fly a good few centimetres above the water. At the wheel stood a bare-chested young man, his curly golden brown hair blown back in the wind. At that moment, Anka Sztojka would have given all the literary pearls of Hungary and the Universe to stand next to that young man for just a few moments. Yes, yes, she would just stand there, but behind him perhaps, resting her chin on Renato’s sailboat shoulder, her arms around his chest, riding the peaks and troughs of the gentle rocking of his ribs, and they would fly along the Tisza towards Sajó bay. The wind would whip her ebony hair, but what a joy it would be to race the agile Tisza wind!

A green lizard poked its head out of a crack in the willow bark, craned around in silence, then skedaddled into the tall grass. Anka thought of September when work would begin again at the printer’s, and how on her dawn journey to work, the detritus of the city night would tangle up in the spokes of her wheelchair. Would that cat still be there on the corner by the bin, living on rubbish from the hole in the bottom? Crazy. She brushed a brown spider away from her face. Crazy, the summer wasn’t over yet, and it was goodbye Renato, but there was so much she wanted to tell him. Like that he should take her for a boat ride – if not this summer, fine, but he should promise her a spin sometime. And then the long autumn evenings would pass quicker, the din of the printing press wouldn’t be as deafening, and spring would come earlier.

The little lizard caught her eye again, circling up the tree fast towards a sun-baked palm print. When it felt the sun’s rays gently caress its back, it rested, stiffened into a pose, and forgetting the hardships of life on this earth, dreamt of plump strawberries. Anka gazed at the stripy-backed lizard until the book slipped out of her hand, her head flopped to one side and she fell asleep. In her dreams she swam in the Tisza amongst the wild geese, wild ducks and coots.


Pearl Sand

Rozál Ördög is originally born a girl, until life on the pitiless plains turns her into a boy.

Then a passionate love affair transforms her back into a woman – a wife who entrusts to her seven children her secret, the highwaymen’s treasure, stained with the blood of many.

The novel plays out in Hungary’s Sahara, in the borderlands of the South. Here everything tells a tale: each blade of grass, the bullet-pierced sheepskin and the big peach tree whose roots cradle that very treasure. Will one of the seven children manage to get it back? For with the treasure comes madness. Or does it?

In this 20th-century family saga, two generations collide. The characters, described with affectionate irony, walk their own predestined paths on a quest for whatever they crave: money, love, a career, faith, adventure or simply a happy family.

This is a unique world in the middle of nowhere where the heart-warming and the brutal, the enchanted and the devilish, the old and the new exist side by side, adding up to produce ironic fairy-tales as well as the description of merciless, harsh reality. As the wind blows the sand, the reader will find magic in the interweaving sentences.


Excerpt from the novel

Rozál Ördög was born a girl but life made a boy of her. Or rather, the Ördög family did – the family she was unwittingly born into. She would have been eight years old when her father with the misplaced Cumanian chip on his shoulder, ankle-deep in blood at a brawl at the inn, accidentally slipped, broke his fall by thumping his head the window sill, and with one last, “Oh, Lord, nobody loves me”, passed away.

Her mother, even before this uniquely tragic event, had already run away with a perfume-peddling conman who claimed to be a French professor but knew plenty of Cuman dialect. His reputation preceded even the heady erotic flower scents which he gave to the animals and people of the plains, driving them quite literally wild.

In foreign lands – that is, the surrounding districts – he was notorious for telling fortunes using animal innards. This charlatan had a gift for gazing at reflective surfaces – mirrors, water, blood, or wine. Bizarrely, aside from his scents and balms, his soothsaying was also in demand. He offered Rozál’s mother a job which this otherwise honourable, clean and tidy mother of five accepted on the spot: to go naked under the orange sky at dawn and help gather the wonderful flowers of the Cumanian plains, then spend a few days squeezing the lifeblood out of them. Weeks later they would be sold in foreign lands, imaginatively branded as the truly unique Katica Pipimparé and sold well above the market price.

Translated by: Lucy Frankel

Tags: Margit Halász