05. 12. 2008. 14:04

Péter Esterházy at the PEN World Voices Festival

Fencing and binary search trees

Péter Esterházy, whom Salman Rushdie introduced as ”one of the most significant writers of world literature today”, was a special guest at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York between 29 April and 2 May.

At the New York Public Library, Esterházy talked with writer Wayne Koestenbaum about family destinies in post-war Hungarian literature, apropos of his novels Celestial Harmonies and Revised Edition. The reading (as well as the two other readings by Esterházy in New York) was a glaring success. The audience at the Library thoroughly enjoyed Esterházy’s sense of humor and his subtle allusions that have often been labelled as overly intellectual and too language- and culture-specific.
When asked by Hungarian News Agency MTI if the American audience had understood his puns, the writer answered, ”Like in a fairy-tale.” He had expected the American audience to listen in silence, whereas in reality ”it worked as well as if I had been reading in Budapest.” Concerning his plans, Esterházy told the audience that one day he would certainly write a novel entitled ”Optimum Binary Search Trees”, the title of his MA thesis in Mathematics. Back in Hungary, he also told MTI that his next book would definitely have fencing in it.
Five novels by Esterházy have been translated into English so far, and the next one is probably going to be his recently published novel, Semmi muvészet (No Art). When asked whether the American audience could understand this book, full of football allusions, Esterházy answered that he did not brood much over this question. He added that Americans lived in a system of allusions so different from that of Hungarians that ”football or no football, it does not change much”.
Esterházy also signed the PEN China petition demanding release of jailed writers and journalists. When asked about an eventual boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games, he said that he would regret if the games were boycotted, but that he thought it would be fair to be absent from the opening ceremony, thereby calling attention to the injustices committed by the Chinese government.

Tags: Péter Esterházy