09. 09. 2015. 14:27

Breaking the silence

Noémi Kiss: Thin Angels

How does a woman arrive at the point of killing her husband? Why does she want a child at all costs? And why does society stigmatize her if she doesn’t manage to have one? Noémi Kiss’s novel breaks the silence around many social taboos, including domestic violence, infertility, sexual dependence and emigration.

We are in the Hungary of the 1980s, in the midst of goulash communism, in a small town where a teacher marries a well-known sportsman she had been in love with as a teenager. The woman does the washing, cooks, cleans the house, and of course works as well, in one of the best primary schools of the town. The man goes to trainings and competitions, always intent on winning. Between two trips, he beats his wife.

Gradually, the profile of a typical abuser is built up, step by step: first, verbal abuse―he humiliates the woman in front of others, he is jealous of her and does not let her leave the house. Then he hits her, not once, but many times. As the woman wants a child at all costs, she believes him when he says he loves her. For want of better, she reconciles to a life of monotonous, ordinary days spent with work, often doing overtime at school―and eventually, lovers start to appear on the scene. First the school director who takes advantage of her situation and basically forces her to become his lover. And then others: male teachers, coaches and an ex-student, Sári.

The narrative threads are basically held together by a specific place: the hospital where the woman, Lívia lies as she had a heart attack after killing her husband. The stories are Lívia’s reminiscences, and the murder is not really the point―or rather, it is not the greatest tragedy in this novel. How does a woman arrive at the point of killing her husband? Why does she want a child at all costs? And why does society stigmatize her if she doesn’t manage to have one?

This is how we arrive at the infertility clinic where Lívia is trying to get pregnant by in vitro fertilization. She is trying for years on end, often among humiliating circumstances, with the examinations and the drugs causing immense pain. And Lívia does not realize that her husband does not want the child any longer as his lover has already given birth to a baby in secret.

Thin Angels is a touching and astounding novel. At the same time, it often gives the reader a good laugh. It is about small, unnoticed tragedies happening in front of our very eyes. Domestic violence is still a taboo for many, though some recent occurrences have caught the attention of the media. Yet many people still blame the victims and are ignorant of the fact that domestic violence does not only occur in poor and uneducated families. Sexual, verbal and physical abuse affects a large number of women in Hungary.

Noémi Kiss’s novel breaks the silence around other taboos as well, including infertility, the cumbersome procedure of adoption, child abuse, sexual dependence, segregation and emigration―issues that should finally be talked about, so that our society could start to deal with its traumas, and walk on the path of collective recovery.

Kiss Noémi: Sovány angyalok
Budapest: Magvető, 2015

Réka Barcza

Tags: Noémi Kiss