Budapest


Budapest
Photo of Budapest by Panoramas used under a Creative Commons license.

Anna Porter, The Storyteller (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 2006).
A memoir of Porter’s childhood in Hungary, and a remembrance of her grandfather, Vili Rácz, for whom the book is named. Born Anna Szigethy in 1944, Porter grew up in Budapest until her family emigrated to New Zealand after the 1956 revolution. Rácz was something of a renaissance man, an athlete and an intellectual, and the publisher of magazines and newspapers until the Communists seized what assets survived the war. He loved Hungary’s history and culture, and he loved to walk through Budapest with Porter and tell her stories. Here too are the tales of the three Rácz daughters, of the struggle to survive under Stalinist rule, and of centuries of Hungary’s struggles with powerful neighbors – Turks, Hapsburgs and Soviets – and Rácz stands amid all these stories.

Here are a bio posted by her publisher and another brief profile. Here is a profile of Porter by Jessica de Mello. Historia liked it. Linda Richards interviewed Porter for January Magazine upon the publication of The Storyteller. Jessica de Mello interviewed her for The Danforth Review upon the publication of a more recent book.

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The Szechenyi Baths
Photo of the Szechenyi Baths by wfbakker2 used under a Creative Commons license.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man Who Went up in Smoke (Vintage, 2008).
Inspector Martin Beck of the Stockholm police has just arrived at Baltic island for an overdue vacation when he is summoned back to the capital and asked by the national government to find a missing man, a journalist named Alf Mattson who has not returned from a trip to Budapest.  Beck soon finds himself flying to Budapest to search for Mattson.  The Man Who Went up in Smoke was first published in 1966, when Hungary lay behind the Iron Curtain and Sweden was neutral.  Sjöwall and Wahlöö may not be the first guides you’d pick for a visit to Hungary, but they do write an nice little mystery.  Note that this is the second of a series.

Here is Wikipedia’s entry about the authors, a husband-and-wife team. Maxine Clarke wondered if it could live up to the praise for the series, but calls it marvelous. James Smith says the accumulation of detail is almost mesmeric.  William Corbett (The Boston Phoenix) says Sjöwall and Wahlöö deliver all that you want from a thriller. Kate S. charts its resonances in more recent fiction.  David Cranmer thinks the joy of the book is in the way Beck’s character is drawn. Moonraking posts a random passage. Adam Bowie likes it.

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Liberator, my foot
Photo by ygurvitz used under a Creative Commons license.

Krisztián Ungváry, The Siege of Budapest: 100 Days in World War II (Yale University Press, 2005).
In the final days of 1944, Soviet forces advanced past Budapest, cutting off German and Hungarian forces in the city, where Hitler ordered them to hold out in a doomed effort to save Vienna and Berlin. The ensuing siege lasted into February and trapped some 800,000 civilians in conditions that grew more and more desperate and miserable. Ungváry has written a comprehensive history of the tragedy, from the strategic context to the street-to-street fighting, and not omitting political and social perspectives. John Lukacs wrote the foreward.

Google Book Search will let you read Chapter 2, but not Lukacs’s foreward.  Robert Citino reviewed it for HistoryNet.com.  István Deák reviewed it for The New Republic and also for The Hungarian Quarterly. Paul Hellyer reviewed it for Magyar Szó. Brian Williams reviewed it for MilitaryHistoryOnline. Here is blogger t.s. And here is Wikipedia’s entry on the Siege of Budapest.

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kek, zold, taj es templomtorony
Photo of Sopron, Hungary, by molamoni used under a Creative Commons license.

Gyula Krudy, Sunflower (NYRB, 2007).
A lyrical novel of town and country in fin-de-siecle Hungary. Krudy was a prolific writer, and one of the most popular in Hungary in the early twentieth century. (The introduction in the NYRB edition is an article that John Lukacs wrote about Krudy and Sunflower in the New Yorker twenty years ago, quite helpful in giving some sense of Krudy’s place.) Spooked when someone breaks into her Budapest residence, Eveline returns home to her estate in Bujdos, an apparently fictional (as far as I can tell) town in the Nyírség region by the River Tisza in the lowlands of northeast Hungary, where much of the novel takes place. The plot thickens when she is joined by her friend, Malvina Maszkerádi, but this is a book you read not for the plot, but for Krudy’s prose, and also for his sense of a timeless but now vanished nineteenth-century Hungary.

Zoltán András Bán profiled Krudy. This site has more about him. This one, too. John Bátki, the translator of this edition, wrote this piece in Hungarian Literature Online. Here is much more from vackor, Thomas McGonigle, Ray Keenoy, and Carolyn Bánfalvi. And Mark Sarvas interviews Arthur Phillips about Krudy and Sandor Márai.

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Shoe sculptures and Jewish memorial
Photo by davescunningplan used under a Creative Commons license.

Imre Kertész, Fatelessness (Vintage, 2004).
In 1944, György Köves is a 14-year-old Hungarian Jew in Budapest, with more privileges than many Jews because he has been enlisted to repair bomb damage. One day his bus is stopped and he and others are rounded up and transported to Auschwitz. Days later he is transferred to Buchenwald, and later to another camp, Zeitz. After a year, he is liberated. Kertész lived through this, and much of the novel seems autobiographical, though Kertész says otherwise. Kertész tells his story in stark and simple terms, all the more moving for Koves’ matter-of-fact outlook. Fatelessness was first published in Hungary in 1975. The book was first published in English in 1992 under the title, Fateless. Kertész won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002, the first Hungarian to be so honored.

The Nobel Prize folks provide this biography of Kertész and other information, including his Nobel Lecture. Here is the Complete Review’s review, and here are its links to a copious assortment of other published reviews. György Spiró writes about Fatelessness and his relationship with Kertész in The Hungarian Quarterly. Via Chad W. Post, here is an article by Tim Wilkinson on other work by Kertész now in translation. Brain Drain points to this interview with Kertész . Judith Bolton-Fasman posts this essay about the book. Bloggers writing about the book include Henry Joy McCracken, waggish, Tchelyzt, nathan emmerich, Philip Spires, Pazdziernik. NPR aired this story about the movie’s fidelity to the novel.

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attention | figyelem
Photo by angelscrime used under Creative Commons license.

Tibor Fischer, Under the Frog (Picador, 2001).
Those of us who were outsiders to closed societies like Hungary under communist rule are left to wonder: what was it like? Tibor Fischer— a Hungarian born and raised in London—is more than partly an outsider himself. His debut novel, Under the Frog, is a very dark and very funny comedy set in and around Budapest between the end of World War Two and the failed 1956 uprising against the Community Party. Fischer is writing here about his parents’ generation, and it is difficult to read this book and not catch both his pride in his parents and countrymen, as well diaspora-bitterness at plenty else. October 23rd, the first day of the uprising, is now a national holiday in Hungary.

An overview of Fischer’s biography and his place in Eastern Europe’s diaspora writers can be found here. Larry Wolff wrote a review for The New York Times in 1994. A 1997 interview with Fischer about a later book, The Thought Gang, can be found here. A 2004 review of Under the Frog on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising can be found here.

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