To combat the view of Hungarians as gloomy and serious, we will now recommend a few Hungarian books that you can actually read on the beach or on the terrace, while sipping wine and enjoying the summer.
When one thinks of Hungarian literature, it is certainly not fun and happiness that first comes to mind. As Árpád Kun, author of a new novel with actually the word “happy” in its title, recently said in an interview: “’happy’ is a surprisingly rarely used term in Hungarian literature, and this is one of the reasons why I chose to use it. It is rather the expressions for ‘unhappiness’ that have become all too trivial.” So to combat this view of Hungarians as gloomy and serious, we will now recommend a few Hungarian books that you can actually read on the beach or on the terrace, while sipping wine and enjoying the summer.
Antal Szerb: The Pendragon Legend
Translated by Len Rix
London: Pushkin Press, 2006
For lovers of The Name of the Rose and The Da Vinci Code, here’s a brilliant 1934 mock-Gothic thriller by the delightful Antal Szerb. János Bátky, a Budapest scholar doing research in London is invited to a castle in Wales to examine an extraordinary library of Rosicrucian codices and other rare books. Bátky, Szerb’s alter ego, an immensely erudite person with hardly any practical knowledge, becomes involved in a crime story and an erotic adventure, witnesses uncanny events and weird scientific experiments.
Milán Füst: The Story of My Wife
Translated by Ivan Sanders. Preface by George Konrád
London: Jonathan Cape, 1989
A fascinating story of marriage, love and jealousy, The Story of My Wife is the ‘memoir’ of Jacob Störr, middle-aged Dutch sea captain who suspects that his wife is unfaithful, though his conviction depends entirely on interpretation. An almost scientific description of jealousy, this novel documents the distance that will always be there between two people. Hardly known in the English-speaking world, Füst’s novel was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1958.
Dezső Kosztolányi: Kornél Esti
Translated by Bernard Adams
New York: New Directions, 2011
A string of short stories from 1933, linked by the person of Kornél Esti, a delightful, mercurial character. The stories, written in a light and playful tone, are about the conflict of youthful freedom and social obligations, virtues gone awry and the problem of communication. Young readers will love the book for its irreverence and playfulness, whereas adults will appreciate the satiric and tragic overtones, Kosztolányi’s deep knowledge of human character and his celebration of life.
Péter Esterházy: The Book of Hrabal
Translated by Judith Sollosy
Evanston, Ill: Nortwestern University Press, 1995
The story of Anna, the writer’s wife, who is pregnant and considering having an abortion; two angels, Blaise and Gabriel aka Cho-Cho who enjoy looking at women’s asses; God, who is a bad saxophone player; and a writer who is trying to write on Bohumil Hrabal, told in Esterházy’s trademark style: humor, serenity, irreverence, digressions and a host of literary allusions. Life in Budapest just before the change of regime in 1989.
(Photo: Budapest, Palatinus swimming-pool, 1940. Fortepan)