09. 14. 2017. 12:28

Self Help Or: the Power of Nohoo (An Excerpt) by Zsófia Bán

translated by Jim Tucker

Of course none of us had any idea what Nohoo was, but no one dared ask. The word had such a powerful, suggestive aura about it that we visualized it capitalized from the outset. – Self Help Or: the Power of Nohoo (an excerpt) by our new guest at HLO's Brody Lit Nite, Zsófia Bán.

"Children," Mrs. Grant used to say, "life is unfathomable. But any actual situation requires actual responses that are quite fathomable indeed. You should always be able to get yourselves out of a fix, but to do that you need to acquire—anyone?—the knowledge you need. Because any situation can be fixed if you have the Nohoo."
Of course none of us had any idea what Nohoo was, but no one dared ask. The word had such a powerful, suggestive aura about it that we visualized it capitalized from the outset. Perhaps it will come as no surprise if I tell you that it became our class motto. We used it to greet one another in the halls, out in the courtyard, on the street and the tram, at the baker’s and butcher’s. Mrs. Grant became our hero. We called her "General Grant," which always elicited a permissive, kindly smile. She let us do anything (almost), as long as we were willing to use Nohoo. We looked down on anyone who was lazy or sloppy about it, and shut them out. Learning Nohoo became a question of honor, and anyone whose behavior undermined the project was no longer a member of the pack. In this spirit we voraciously awaited Mrs. Grant’s newest pronouncements each week, and noted them down in our lined, indigo notebooks. Here I shall publish the esteemed contents of my notebook, which I have saved till this day. May the Nohoo be with you.

1) Should you find yourself at the top of a waterfall, you must do the following:

Take a deep breath just before you go over the edge.

As long as you are in midair, you won’t have too much control over events. Get used to that. Gravity is a stern taskmaster, and the water might be deep.

Dive feet first. Don’t even think about trying it head first or anyother idiotic way you usually do it. Hold your legs tightly together.

Jump out in front of the waterfall as far as is humanly possible.

Wrap your arms around your head to protect it. After all, if yourhead gets injured, you can kiss the Nohoo good-bye.

Start swimming the second you reach the bottom of the waterfall and plunge into the mass of water below. Start swimming before you come up to the surface, because swimming will slow any further sinking. Swim at the top of your lungs. Swim like a bird in flight. Swim like crazy. Swim, my dears, swim. To be perfectlyclear: swim downward, with the flow, away from the waterfall. Now I know there’s always someone who tries to be cute and swim around behind it to see what’s back there, but there’s nothing to see there, dear boy, just some very big rocks that will smash up your sweet little noggin till it’s nice and bloody. All right then.

2) If it looks like a tsunami is on the way, you must do the following:

First of all, make sure you are not confusing this event with the ebband flow of the tides. Make sure you are not confusing it with the movements of the stars and the planets. Make sure you have not confused the sky with a double bass, and that you are not seeing things and that your little souls don’t just have the hiccups. I know, I know—a little soul can have a big hiccup, but let us not confuse a little soul’s big hiccup, mes amis, with a big tsunami, no. We know the difference. We know how to make distinctions. We know what is how big. (Calculate what is how big!) Finally, then, before you do anything, make sure that the gas in the kitchen is shut off, because later, when the tsunami comes, you won’t have the chance to go back and check, and all through the tsunami you will soil your little panties wondering whether you have shut it off or not. This we call OCD, and it’s every bit as bad as your medium-sized tsunami.

To sum up, then, if you see that the wall of water is not moving the way it is supposed to (be sure to check how it is supposed to!), you must do the following:

Run up and down the beach and scream in the ears of the porky bathers who are lounging there red as horseshoe crabs Mister, lady, get up, get up, there’s a tsunami on the way!, and don’t for a minute be surprised if everyone just keeps lounging around and orders another drink from the floating bar. No matter. Keep moving everinward towards the middle of the country until you reach a place where three roads meet, but of course you, with your Nohoo, will know exactly which road to take, I can’t recall at the moment but I’m sure I’ll remember by the end of class, so just stay on that road until you reach the foot of an improbably high mountain, and look for the nearest ski lift and take it up to the top that stands proud insun and wind, and then you will notice that your peaceful hearts are calm now, unstirred by fresh passions, which in turn will fill you with bottomless melancholy, but you can be sure that everything will be just fine, and the tsunami will see that it doesn’t have a chance with you and will just have to slink back to where it came from and you’ll see the double rainbow appearing out of nowhere and all the animals will leave the ark, and then Take that, tsunami!


Translated by Jim Tucker


You can find the original text in English at EPIPHANY (Spring 2012), and in Hungarian in the collection Esti iskola (Kalligram, 2007).
Esti iskola – Olvasókönyv felnőtteknek (‘Night school – A reader for adults’), soon to be published in English in Jim Tucker’s translation by Open Letter Books.


Zsófia Bán was born in 1957 in Rio de Janeiro. She is a writer, critic, and scholar. “A két Frida” (“The Two Fridas”) was published in Bán’s short-story collection Esti iskola: Olvasókönyv felnotteknek (2007; Evening school: A reader for adults), her first work of fiction, for which she was awarded the Attila József Prize. She has been a prolific writer of essays and reviews on literature, art, and visual culture. Her essay collections include Próbacsomagolás (2008; Test-packing) and Amerikaner (2000). She teaches at the Department of American Studies at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. She was a participant at the 2009 PEN World Voices Festival, representing Hungary. In 2012, she published a volume of short stories Amikor még csak az állatok éltek (‘When there were only animals’). In 2014, Bán published Turul és díno (‘The Turul and the Dino’), a collection of essays examining the role of photos in cultural memory, how they present the dark stains of our past and present. In 2014, she was shortlisted for the International Literature Prize awarded by Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

Jim Tucker was once a classical philologist who now contentedly translates literature, screenplays, and other writings from German, Hungarian, Italian, French, Spanish, and Russian. His translations of stories by Zsófia Bán have appeared in The Kenyon Review, World Literature Today, and Epiphany, among others.


Join us to peek inside Zsófia Bán's head on September 19th! Hungarian Literature Online and Brody Studios' next monthly literary discussion evening for members of Brody Club, their guests, and the readers of HLO is here again. Our new guest is Zsófia Bán!

Facebook Event

Event schedule:

18.00 Doors open

20.00 Discussion starts


Entrance fee:

Members: 1000 HUF | Guests: 1500 HUF




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