On Translation and Hungarian Literature Beyond Sandor Marai

Tim Wilkinson observes that translation of world literature to English is in decline and focusses on some of the works of Hungarian writers that merit attention, that is beyond Lajos Zilahy and the recently re- discovered Sandor Marai.

I wrote a short article on Hungarian fiction since 1975 which mentioned 77 works by a “Top 20” list of authors. As only 19 of the titles mentioned there have been published in English translation, that leaves a lot to go for (30 years’ worth at current rates of translation), and nearly half the authors have brought out newer work since then. Quite apart from hopes for the remaining four to five volumes by Imre Kertész that have yet to make it to English, if pressed on personal favourites, they would be László Márton’s The True History of Jacob Wunschwitz or anything after it (especially A Shady High Street); Endre Kukorelly’s Fairy-Vale, or Riddles of the Heart of a Man; Zsolt Láng’s Transylvanian Bestiary (2 volumes); with Gábor Németh’s Jewish, Are You? (2004) as a wild card. László Krasznahorkai also merits wider recognition, and his soon-to-be-published War and War (New Directions, 2006) may or may not achieve that. While the fêting of Sandor Márai is all very well, it would be gratifying to see acknowledgement for more original writers of the recent past, such as Géza Ottlik or Miklós Mészöly.

An overview by Gábor Csordás of contemporary Hungarian literature that English readers are likely to miss out on. Among them is György Spiró’s Fogság.

György Spiró’s epic-scale historical novel, Fogság (Captivity, 2005), seems to be trying above all to convince readers that seeking sense in history is a vain enterprise.

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One Reply to “On Translation and Hungarian Literature Beyond Sandor Marai”

  1. Have only just come across this posting (sorry, but I don’t usually browse for mentions of things I have written). However, it is rather gratifying to see that you picked up on this article. Thank you for passing it on to the audience at whom it was directed! More to the point, I was looking because I am currently engaged on doing a translation of Spiró’s “Captivity”. It will take a while, but I’ll get there in the end, and it’s worth the (long) detour, as they say in the guidebooks. Finding a publisher will be fun (this is not being done so they can preen themselves at how discerning they are.) If you feel like commenting back, please feel free.

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