Zsolt Láng: Love City and Other Stories
The stories in this collection, set in various locations from various European cities to a Hungarian village in Romania, are interconnected through the theme of love, lack of love and relations between men and women.
"It has become fashionable to say that Transylvania is the land of short stories, since geopolitically this strange plateau, with its elevations and subdued tectonics, divided into 'minuscule landscapes' by all the hills and the rivers, fostered the creation of short 'lyrical-dramatic forms,'" writes Zsolt Láng in his book of essays subtitled "The 'history' of 'Hungarian' 'literature' in Romania" (sic). This might very well be true, yet this time the landscapes inspired a series of universally valid propositions, sevenfold purified in the furnace of the writer’s workshop. "The text often introduces a magical element into the causal chain of events," writes Tamás Bényei about Láng’s novel Beasts of Fire and Water. In this case too, the narrative flow is faultless. The logic is dream-like, the text is clear and structured. Everything is held together by the choreography of Láng’s unique way of thinking and envisioning.
The stories of Love City come in various forms and sizes: from the classical short story, through the novella, the one minute story and the crime story, to the essayistic memoir, they represent multiple narrative genres. Some of them capture only one fleeting moment, while others reflect on many years and events. One of them forms a string of pearl-like words around an inspiring idea, another presents a lengthy, several pages long conversation. What is the common feature which connects these texts? This can be discovered in the similar patterns and elements of the collected stories which give an unmistakable coating to the characters and the landscapes; or it can be the lack of feelings, the coldness of male–female relations. All of the stories are placed―without exception―in real, identifiable settings. The reader can follow how love is portrayed in Kolozsvár/Cluj, in Budapest, Rome or Berlin; or perhaps in a forest cottage, far away from cities; in a Szekler village, where the temperature drops below 25 degree Celsius. The reader can witness how emotions are influenced by the atmosphere or style of streets, squares and buildings, and the other way around: how love determines the architecture of cities that are to be built. Just like in the wine tasting episode, where the narrative unfolds through the description of wines and their symbolic flavors, in "Love Story". The main question of "What is love?" is answered in multiple ways by the texts, yet all of them should be taken as mere alternatives. No use in looking for ultimate definitions of love in the several registers or layers of meaning. Some of the scattered statements which seem to be explanations on life’s big questions quickly dissolve like shadows on the stage of memory, leaving only a pleasant scent or imprint in the mind of the reader.
The story entitled "Full Moon" is an authentic and bold work of prose, mixing ingenious, Borges-like twists, smart references and hidden footnotes. The following fragment is taken from here:
Once, someone told me the story of how he "made a lot of money" when he was a child. He used to own this pigeon which he would sell and then the bird would always fly back to him. I don’t remember clearly, but it must have been a homing pigeon, those have a good sense of direction. The buyers would return to him and demand the pigeon back, but by that time the bird was already sold to someone else. One time it was bought by someone who travelled to America the next day, yet―no matter how absurd it sounds―the pigeon came back nonetheless. This story is very important for me, although not because of the young boy’s profitable scam. I am solely interested in the pigeon. The fear and horror of this bird, as it constantly flies off into the unknown from its new home, has an immense effect on me.
If we were to look at the allegorical aspects of this narrative―an approach which stays true to the spirit of the book―then we could surely identify the homing pigeon with that unmistakable and specific authorial tone which accompanies the narrator to all the surprising and distant places in the stories.
Finally, the reader can encounter in these texts great examples of Láng’s peculiar imagination and the eternal drive towards gemlike, precise experimental ventures. "The Loss of Virginity" approaches its chosen theme in an exciting and original way.
The Saint Anne Lake is simply called the Lake in the town of Sepsi. So, even when someone asks if you want to go to Saint Anne’s, everybody knows it’s the Lake. It’s the only one around, in the whole region. Another famous Transylvanian topographical name, the mountain of Hargita, refers to four different places, to the Csicsói, the Madarasi, the Mádéfalvi and the Rákosi Hargita. However, one of the most popular tourist stops, the Thousand Year Border doesn’t really exist from a certain perspective.
Virginity is also such a border.
The poetics of prose seen as a platform of theoretical reflection owes its wonderful discoveries to the work of writers like Zsolt Láng. Everything is in its place in his book, yet there is always so much more happening than just simple literature.
Láng Zsolt: Szerelemváros és más történetek
Budapest: Kalligram, 2013
Translated by: Szabolcs László
Tags: Zsolt Láng