FINALIST FOR THE 2017 PEN TRANSLATION PRIZE
From the author of The Door, selected as one of the New York Times "10 Best Books of 2015," this is a heartwrenching tale about a group of friends and lovers torn apart by the German occupation of Budapest during World War II.
In prewar Budapest three families live side by side on gracious Katalin Street, their lives closely intertwined. A game is played by the four children in which Bálint, the promising son of the Major, invariably chooses Irén Elekes, the headmaster’s dutiful elder daughter, over her younger sister, the scatterbrained Blanka, and little Henriette Held, the daughter of the Jewish dentist.
Their lives are torn apart in 1944 by the German occupation, which only the Elekes family survives intact. The postwar regime relocates them to a cramped Soviet-style apartment and they struggle to come to terms with social and political change, personal loss, and unstated feelings of guilt over the deportation of the Held parents and the death of little Henriette, who had been left in their protection. But the girl survives in a miasmal afterlife, and reappears at key moments as a mute witness to the inescapable power of past events.
As in The Door and Iza’s Ballad, Magda Szabó conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix Cévennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable.
The latest from Szab (The Door) is a gorgeous elegy for the joy and the life once shared among three neighboring families the Elekes, the Temes, and the Helds in prewar Budapest, following the residents through the German invasion in 1944, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and the miserable quiet of the 1960s. At the heart of the story is Iren, the Elekes' older daughter, who in 1944 is a beautiful and hardworking school teacher poised to begin the happy life she feels entitled to lead. But on the day that she and Balint, son of the Temes family next door, announce their engagement, the Helds who are Jewish are taken away. Their teenager daughter, Henriette, has remained with Iren's and Balint's families for protection and yet, before the night is over, her presence will be discovered, with catastrophic consequences that will haunt everyone for the rest of their lives. Readers will be impressed by the brilliant texture and forthrightness of Szab 's prose, along with the particular urgency she infuses into the humiliations and irrational longings that comprise her characters' lives, even or especially during the shock of war. All the while, Iren maintains her work ethic, as if by grading papers she can hold fast to some larger sense of order, even though the chaos of the world has murdered her neighbors, ruined her future, and destroyed her country. This is a brilliant and unforgettable novel.