A literary sensation on its original publication in Hungary, this hypnotic, hauntingly beautiful first novel from the acclaimed, award-winning poet and author Szilárd Borbély depicts the poverty and cruelty experienced by a partly-Jewish family in a rural village in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“No one has ever written so beautifully and at the same time so without pity about the suffering in the isolated provincial villages of Hungary…His sentences have a surgical precision, and their sustained rhythm only reinforces the power of what they evoke.”—Nicole Henneberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
In a tiny village in northeast Hungary, close to the Romanian border, a young, unnamed boy warily observes day-to-day life and chronicles his family’s struggles to survive. Like most of the villagers, his family is desperately poor, but their situation is worse than most—they are ostracized because of his father’s Jewish heritage and his mother’s connections to the Kulaks, who once owned land and supported the fascist Horthy regime before it was toppled by Communists.
With unflinching candor, the little boy’s observations are related through a variety of narrative voices—crude diatribes from his alcoholic father, evocative and lyrical tales of the past from his grandparents, and his own simple yet potent prose. Together, these accounts reveal not only the history of his family but that of Hungary itself, through the physical and psychic traumas of two World Wars to the country’s treatment of Jews, both past and present.
Drawing heavily on Borbély’s memories of his own childhood, The Dispossessed is an extraordinarily realistic novel. Raw and often brutal, yet glimmering with hope, it is the crowning achievement of an uncompromising talent.
Hungarian essayist and poet Borbely's first novel captures the pain of poverty and prejudice in post-World War II Hungary through the eyes of a young boy. The unnamed narrator is the son of a man with Jewish heritage and a woman with familial ties to the Kulaks, fascist sympathizers who once controlled Hungary before being overthrown by communists. Growing up in a small village in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he and his family are alienated by their fellow villagers and forced to live in near squalor. Though his life is defined by hunger and want, the boy uses his energy to learn about his heritage and Hungary's violent history, including two wars and forced relocation. The boy's voice is striking for the measured way in which he recounts violence, the material desires he and his sister hope to have filled, and the simple, bleak facts of his family's existence. Through brief vignettes and stories told to him, the boy explains his world and the people who inhabit it, often weaving together mundane daily routines with illuminating details that highlight his family's profound suffering. As the middle child of parents concerned with more pressing worries than his emotional needs , the cruelty of the boy's life is at times overwhelming and deeply unsettling. This immensely powerful portrait of poverty is at once a window into an often obscured history, and a timeless testament to the struggle of those in need.