Ervin Lázár is the creator of a genre we may safely call
Central European folk surrealism, which takes on the quality of a
hallucinatory exploration into that part of the soul where beauty, hope,
and yearning live in close proximity with the harsh realities of life.
Penguin Modern Classics has just released Faludy’s autobiography My Happy Days in Hell, an
elegant tale celebrating the triumph of the human spirit. The book was
first published in English in London in 1962, anticipating Alexander
Solzhenitsin's Gulag Archipelago by more than a decade. It covers
a morally confusing period when many otherwise decent souls were driven
into the arms of Communism by their outrage at the initial triumph of
murderous Nazi tyranny.
Overwhelming; gut-wrenching; the most significant Hungarian novel of the year, of the decade―Szilárd Borbély’s Have-Nothings, a powerful novel about soul-wracking poverty in a Hungarian village in the 1960s and 70s, has earned such and similar praise.
There are only instants, got it? Instants, instants counted by telephone companies. You can’t let a single instant pass without saying yes. If you start thinking the whole thing’s damned. Nothing matters but that it should cost money. If you cost money, you exist.
In 1996 I visited Hungary for the first time in 18 years. I came from New York with my laptop and a thoroughly Americanized mind. I found the country completely different from the grey death camp I left almost two decades ago. It was now a bursting, yet somehow utterly depressed and depressing Balkan bazaar, a kind of Mad Max land in King Ubu’s empire, where most people I met were in a bad mood.