Four Hungarian writers – György Spiró, György Dragomán, Gábor Schein and Géza Röhrig – were guests at the Jerusalem Book Festival, held between 10-15 February 2013.
A volume of short stories by György Spiró was published in Hebrew for the festival. Spiró participated at several events, including a conversation with stage director Ilan Eldad, and his comedy Prah was read at the Cameri Theatre in Tel-Aviv.
György Dragomán's novel The White King was published in Hebrew in 2009, in the translation of Avi Dekel, who had a talk with Dragomán at the festival. Other events included a conversation between Gábor Schein and painter, poet and literary translator Miriam Neiger-Fleischman, and a talk chaired by critic Noah Manheim, featuring Géza Röhrig, the author of Hassidic Stories. Röhrig has lived in New York for more than a decade, but he writes in Hungarian.
Though all the four writers have some Jewish background, they relate to Jewishness differently. At the festival, Röhrig talked about how being a Hungarian Jew in New York – a double minority position – has enriched his poetry. Gábor Schein does not consider himself a Jewish writer. "I am a Hungarian writer, so much is clear, since I write in Hungarian... The rest – Hungarian Jewish literature or Jewish literature as such: these are very problematic notions. I am indeterminable, just like everyone else," Schein said. He added that the starting point of literature was the dissolution of immutable notions, and that literature was against precisely such delimiting thinking. As for György Spiró, he said in an interview, "I am a Hungarian writer, I don't know what to do about Jews... As far as I'm concerned, everyone can choose their own way of being a Jew. This is a private affair... My identity should be left alone..."
Among the festival events, there was a round-table discussion about Hungarian literature in Israel with the participation of publishers: Ornit Cohen Barak (Modan, Israel) Mose Ron (Am Oved, Israel), Bence Sárközy (Libri, Hungary) and János Kőbányai (Múlt és Jövő, Hungary). Sárközy explained that the current difficulties of Hungarian publishers were mainly due to market factors. At a time when Hungarians have less and less money for books, publishers of quality literature are forced to compete with houses churning out cheap publications. Kőbányai added that in a more and more globalized world small languages are in a difficult position. In Hungary – just as in Israel – publishing is becoming a less and less profitable business. While Sándor Márai's works turned out to be a success in Israel, even more so than Imre Kertész's Fatelessness, other, just as excellent books are all but impossible to sell. For all that, quite a lot of translated works are published in both countries.
Two hundred Hungarian books were showcased at the festival, including forty publications in Hebrew. Besides the official stand of the Hungarian Balassi Institute, there were two other Hungarian stands: the Hungarian publisher Múlt és Jövő (Past and Future), and the Drory Hungarian library in Giv'atayim were also among the exhibitors.
Hungarian cultural attaché in Israel Attila Novák deemed the Hungarian presence at the festival a great success. Novák said that there was a lot of interest in Hungarian programs and a fair number of books had been sold.