Two Hungarian novels
A recent city break to Budapest was the occasion for coming into contact with some of the rich literature to come out of Hungary. I really did not know what to expect. But, instead of buying copies of noted authors and being charged for excess weight on the return flight, I made a note of several authors and titles and scanned the local Library website when I got home. To my surprise, several were listed and within a few short days I had three in my hands.
Esther’s inheritance: Sandor Marai. A slim volume that can be easily read in one extended sitting, but a narrative that kept me spellbound throughout. The author had been an exile from Communist Hungary in California and, sadly, committed suicide just months before the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. His novel recounts the story of the unmarried Esther, now in her late 40s, who had been jilted 20 years earlier by “the only man I ever loved”, but who also happened to be an inveterate liar and thief. Lajos sends her a telegram to announce his return one day, and this sends Esther into a flurry of activity preparing for the day. Although Esther knows that Lajos is coming to cheat and lie, and rob her of her few remaining possessions, there is a curious inevitability about her willingness to be duped once again. The reader will naturally hope that Esther will exact her revenge on Lajos, but the impelling force of her past infatuation might once again reign supreme.
The Door: Magda Szabó. When I put this book down, I found it hard to understand how the plot had kept my attention for so long. I could say that the plot might be summed up in the following few words: a young female writer employs an elderly woman, named Emerence, to be her housekeeper, and the ensuing narrative explores the complicated ups and downs of that relationship. Szabó skilfully delves into the inner workings of the human psyche, exploring the incompatibilities of two divergent personalties: the writer who lives in a world of letters alongside a hyperactive domestic who has no time for reading and philosophizing; a woman who is deeply attached to her religious background against a woman who has almost made a career out of maligning the Church and a belief in God; a person who, through the growing success of her writing, finds herself increasingly controlled by the ‘will of society’ versus a lady who will do anything in her power to keep society at bay and prevent anyone defiling the inner sanctum of her home. This narrative almost has an autobiographical feel to it.