László Krasznahorkai's new novel, Baron Wenckheim's Return brings together his whole life's work, is both apocalypse and carnival, sensitive satire, drama, and tragic conclusion in which everyone will find what they're looking for. If you want to laugh, you'll laugh, if you want to be moved, you'll be moved.
September 17th saw the publication by Magvető of László Krasznahorkai's new novel, Baron Wenckheim's Return, which brings together his life's work. The publisher tells us (here in Hungarian) that after Irimiás in Satantango and Isiaiah in War and War, Krasznahorkai introduces us to a new hero, Baron Wenckheim, who "is seen as the man to fulfill the eternal Promise when he returns home from Buenos Aires. Home: home here, to modern Hungary and to the desperate lands of his ancestors, where people are expecting him as if he were the Messiah. What will he say? What we deserve, or what we want to hear? Is he a dying man with a gambling addiction, or an inspired saviour come to open up new horizons? One thing's for certain: the small town where he was born, and where he intends to be buried, is covered in petrol tankers. We're getting close to the fire.
László Krasznahorkai's novel, which brings together his whole life's work, is both apocalypse and carnival, sensitive satire, drama, and tragic conclusion in which everyone will find what they're looking for. If you want to laugh, you'll laugh, if you want to be moved, you'll be moved. Its antecedents are Gogol and Mikszáth, not to mention Dante the encyclopaedist, who turns up here as well: a resident of Szolnok who bears a striking resemblance – at least theoretically – to the Brazilian defender Dante. After the unforgettable dance that was Satantango, we're dancing once more, with the graceful tumble of suggestive sentences that hold the whole world within them, away from the ending, towards the ending."
The new Krasznahorkai novel was launched on Saturday 17th September at 5:30 p.m. at the Pesti Színház theatre, at a "Dark Book Launch". The theatre's website, which recently had a long extract of the book (in Hungarian), reveals the following details: "Our task at the Pesti Színház is to create an event. A psychiatrist, security guard, publisher, actress, petrol station attendant, poet, mathematician and writer will try and introduce the audience and future readers to the extraordinary world of the book.
Featuring: László Krasznahorkai (writer), Enikő Eszenyi (actress and director), Krisztián Nyáry (writer and publisher), Endre Szemerédi (Abel prize-winning mathematician), Zsolt Unoka (psychiatrist), Mihály Víg (composer)."
László Krasznahorkai, photo: Gábor Valuska
The book launch was sold out, but this was not the only event surrounding the book. On Monday the 19th September, there was a reading from the work at the Írók Boltja, where the author also signed copies of the new book.
László Krasznahorkai's book launches are anything but ordinary, so we were expecting something unusual on the Friday the 17th at the "Dark Book Luanch". But it wouldn't have occurred to anyone who wasn't in the know to imagine that the event would take place entirely in the dark from start to finish.
At the start of the event, a voice asked us, on behalf of Krasznahorkai himself, to switch off our mobile phones, not to take any pictures, and – if someone should be inconsiderate enough to be taken ill during the book launch – to refrain from giving in to their weaker impulses, or if they absolutely had to, to cry for help and make their way out of the auditorium.
The soft-voiced writer (as he introduced himself), was the last to speak, in a row of people that, in the context of the evening, could almost have been the witness gallery in a courtroom, with the star witness at the very end. It was he who had the crucial details, could get at the very heart of the affair; it was he who had the key. And when it came to speak, it was his time to shine. In the anxious and terrifying moments of anticipation, we could empathise with Maria, or Marietta by her other name, who hears a noise on the other side of the door, and then a knock... And even before she goes to open it, she knows that it's the Baron that's come calling. Krasznahorkai's final words after the end of his reading came from the dramatic force of the work and served as a message for all of us, cooped in the dark: "you can't live without light." Hard to know what to make of that. Whether it's encouragement, prophetic warning, or a summary from the man with the final word.