[diary] 10 – hungary

Jó napot everyone !

Well, what can I say about this literary trip to Hungary that I just came back from ? I might as well say it now, I have mixed feelings at the moment : I don’t really know if I liked The dispossessed, by Szilárd Borbély, or if I didn’t appreciate it at all. A weird outcome for a book that landed in my hands almost accidentally, and that I finally finished after a (way too) long reading time.


The résumé was promising, advertising the story of a boy and his family in XXth century’s Hungary, which seemed to aggregate everything I am searching for with one book | one country : History, at a national but also at a human scale, with an immersion in the daily life of a foreign country and in a key period of its (re)construction. And though… I had a lot of difficulty interesting myself for this book ! Quaintly, the structure of the narrative reminded me of My First Sony’s. Indeed, the storytelling appears to be quite similar : we also follow a young boy relating his family’s background (with intrusions of his parents and grandparents’ memories, closely intricated to a global national souvenir). We also find the same rambling structure, non chronological, like a patchwork reassembling many years’s moments in disorder. There is even the same naive subjectivity in the narrator’s voice.

And yet, the final rendition is absolutely different – unfortunately, in a way that I liked less. The various passages aren’t really smoothly linked, sometimes they are a bit repetitive : we don’t really trace a thinking path that would lead from an event to the next with some logical bound, and it is more like a succession of short episodes, like a serial compilation. The sentences, instead of infinitely extend, are short and efficient : it also gives rhythm to the text, but it is more syncopated. The writing style as a whole particularly unsettled me : poetic at some places, elsewhere in the text it flirts with gore, with some really rough scenes. This alternation is totally appropriate for the subject – an unvarnished life story, illustrating a merciless reality – but didn’t help me to enjoy the text.

Concerning the content, we are given a lot of very precise references to hungarian History and to the genuine life routine in this country’s villages during the past century, which is pretty interesting. We can thus discover a world of misery, of discrimination, of political and religious conflicts (the grandparents of the main character lived through two world wars that are very pregnant in the book), a sad and revolting world in which every single person has to fight to survive. The narrator is a likeable character, looking lucidly at his surroundings, suffering without complaining. In an unhealthy environment, caught between an alcoholic and absent father and a quite suicidal mother, he tries to go through life, reaching for adulthood. Our narrator has tics, doesn’t sleep well, is brutalized by his classmates, is afraid of letter j, is obsessed with prime numbers… In this multiplicity of details, we learn to like him, and we also discover more trouble people, deadlocked in their sordid and unchanging livings – Máli, Mémé Juszti…

I appreciated the ethnographic quality of this piece, and also the peculiar point of view brought in by the narrator. However, I didn’t really enjoy this read, and I had to compell myself to go through this book. At the end, I was nearly disgusted from it, not advancing in this dark and disenchanted story while unable to like the author’s style. Anyway, I know that a lot of people actually loved The dispossessed (which is why is decided to pick it in the first place), and even if I wouldn’t recommend this particular piece to have a start with hungarian literature, it will certainly please curious people willing to discover this country and the work of Szilárd Borbély (who is more reputed for his poetry). In brief, a reading that didn’t convince me (the first for this challenge !) but that I am really satisfied to have kept on going until its end, because it revealed a vision of Hungary that I didn’t suspect. Which, I guess, is a sufficient reason to read a book !

> The next review will be about Nouvelles de Tunisie, a collection of short stories by Magellan & Cie (more details here).

> BORBÉLY, Szilárd – La miséricorde des coeurs, Christian Bourgeois Éditeur – translated from Hungarian by Agnès Járfás.
> written listening to “Himnusz” .

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