On Our Shelves Now
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 Balint, the promising son of the Major, invariably chooses Iren 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 Szabo conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix Cevennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable.
About the Author
Magda Szabo (1917-2007) was born into an old Protestant family in Debrecen, Hungary's "Calvinist Rome," on the eastern side of the great Hungarian plain. Szabo., whose father taught her to converse with him in Latin, German, English, and French, attended the University of Debrecen, studying Latin and Hungarian, and went on to work as a teacher throughout the German and Soviet occupations of Hungary in 1944 and 1945. In 1947, she published two volumes of poetry, Barany (The Lamb) and Vissza az emberig (Return to Man), for which she received the Baumgarten Prize in 1949. Under Communist rule, the prize was repealed and her work was banned, and Szabo. turned to writing fiction. Her first novel, Fresko (Fresco), came out in 1958, followed closely by Az őz (The Fawn). In 1959 she won the Jozsef Attila Prize, after which she went on to write many more novels, among them Katalin utca (Katalin Street, 1969), Okut (The Ancient Well, 1970), Regimodi tortenet (An Old-Fashioned Tale, 1971), and Az ajto (The Door, 1987). Szabo also wrote verse for children, plays, short stories, and nonfiction, including a tribute to her husband, Tibor Szobotka, a writer and translator who died in 1982. A member of the European Academy of Sciences and a warden of the Calvinist Theological Seminary in Debrecen, Szabo. died in the city in which she was born, a book in her hand. Len Rix is a poet, critic, and former literature professor who has translated six books by Antal Szerb, including the novel Journey by Moonlight (available as an NYRB Classic) and, most recently, The Martian's Guide to Budapest. In 2006 he was awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for his translation of Magda Szabo's The Door (also available as an NYRB Classic), which was one of The New York Times Book Review's ten best books of 2015.