An interview with publisher Gábor Csordás
Péter Nádas’ new, three-volume novel was published this week by Jelenkor Publishers. You – the editor of this novel, and of all Nádas works published by Jelenkor – consider Parallel Stories an extremely significant book. Why?
To put it briefly: because this is the first Hungarian book which is not only on a par with the best works of contemporary world literature, but which actually takes a turn that is unique even in terms of world literature. Radical novelty is, of course, hard to put into words (and hard to interpret: critics will definitely have a hard time writing about this book). We must compare it to other works, and so we give the impression that it is not such a novelty after all. However, I shall try. Imagine a Proustian novel the internal order, the evoked world of which is constituted by the dynamics of the sensory remembrance of several dozen, rather than only one, ’I-s’. These ’I’-s are interwoven, they merge into each other, and make up one collective story. This weird collectivity is made possible by the fact that the level of sensory perception – rather than one political community or the other – is basically the only anthropological invariant. Nádas has already exposed this in his collection of essays On Heavenly and Earthly Love, but what was merely a disputable philosophical conception there proved to be an incredibly rich ’authorial auxiliary hypothesis’ in Parallel Stories.
How does this novel differ from The Book of Memories?
The four narratives that make up The Book of Memories are each characterized by that ’body-writing’ that is Nádas’ patent in world literature, and which explains the international success of the book. There, the separate stories add up to make one novel in a model-like construction. The world of Nádas’ new novel is not delimited by such a model-like construction. Therefore, while reading it, we are caught in a tangle of inexhaustible and indeterminate lifeworlds – and this is very similar to the way we actually live in the world. The similarity – and this is really astounding – is even greater than in the case of the great realist novels.
Would you say that this novel is more significant than the rest of Nádas’ writings?
I think Nádas is a writer who discovered the nature of his talent gradually. From the very beginning, he knew something that others don’t, but it was always in his last work that this knowledge appeared at its freest and richest. So in Nádas’ case, the latest novel is always the most significant one. Yearbook seemed to be an exception, but looking back we can see that it was a very important step on the road leading up to Parallel Stories.
There are great expectations, and not only in literary circles. All those who like and read contemporary Hungarian literature can hardly wait for the moment when they can start reading the three hefty volumes. What do you think the reception will be like?
As I have said, critics will probably be at a loss. But the readers are going to enjoy it tremendously. They will probably be shocked by some of the chapters, because the novel is very provocative, but the enjoyment will compensate them abundantly for the painful confrontations.
Did it really take Nádas eighteen years to write this novel? How strongly can you feel while reading it that almost two decades have passed ever since he started?
It is actually quite fortunate that the first three volumes took him eighteen years to write. Ten years ago Nádas’ implacable humanism would have caught us much more unprepared.
What does the publisher expect from this novel in terms of sales figures?
Nádas has a secure readership in Hungary, and this already means a lot. But this novel can quite possibly become a great success, for two reasons. I have mentioned one of these – the reality-like richness of the novel’s world. This is not a ’Hungarian sea’, this is real depth in which one can actually submerge. The other reason is its radicality. If the forces of modernization – modernization in the sense of human emancipation – are still present in this semi-feudal Hungarian society, then this novel can become an immense reinforcement for them, quite like Endre Ady’s poetry was at the beginning of the previous century. I would say that this novel is a touchstone: the way it will be received will indicate the chances for a more human world in Hungary.
How do you think Parallel Stories will be received outside Hungary?
The foreign reception will be a similar touchstone. And I would be very sad indeed if this book turned out to be more successful abroad than at home, as it happened with The Book of Memories.
When will it first be translated, into which languages, and who will be the translators?
It is too early as yet to answer this question. All over the world, publishers are already reading it. In the meantime it is certain that it will be translated into German and published by Berlin Verlag.