Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book Review - Skylark

Dezső Kosztolányi
Translated by
Richard Aczel
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Pub. Date: 2010
First published in 1924
ISBN: 978-1590173398
Pages:  222
Literary fiction
Public Library
Reading Challenge
Buy Link

I had the privilege to travel to Hungary back in 1988. Although the country was still under a totalitarian regime, this trip was very enjoyable for me. I believe part of my heart remained in this very attractive country, with hauntingly beautiful landscapes. Budapest is such a gorgeous European capital city. And you have the romantic Lake Balaton, and unforgettable countryside areas.
So for my reading challenges to cover 52 countries, I had to read one of the many famous Hungarian authors. I chose this classic, as it was available in my library.
The story takes place at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s about a very plain unmarried woman, Skylark, 35, lacking in intelligence and beauty, who takes care of her parents, doing the house chores.  They idolize her, even though it looked to me as if she was holding them a bit slave, not allowing them to get out of their tedious daily life habits.

Then one day, she leaves to spend one week away with some relatives.  During that week, her parents progressively relearn to live their own lives, to socialize with former friends and to go out, to the point of the unthinkable.
I didn’t find Skylark really outstanding, maybe because I would have expected something longer and  going even deeper into character development. But I enjoyed it as a moody, sad and beautiful book, quite a reflection of the Hungarian soul, according to me. I liked the evocation of the nostalgic beauty of a small Hungarian city, of life there and its inhabitants. There’s a lot about music and the arts, and ironic remarks on the society of the time. 



*Disclaimer - I checked out this book at my public library*

About the Author:

Dezső Kosztolányi was a famous Hungarian poet and prose-writer.

Kosztolányi was born in Szabadka (Subotica) in 1885, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but which now lies in northern Serbia. The city serves as a model for the fictional town of Sárszeg, in which he set his novella Skylark as well as The Golden Kite. Kosztolányi studied at the University of Budapest, where he met the poets Mihály Babits and Gyula Juhász, and then for a short time in Vienna before quitting and becoming a journalist--a profession he stayed with for the rest of his life. In 1908, he replaces the poet Endre Ady, who had left for Paris, as a reporter for a Budapest daily. In 1910, his first volume of poems The Complaints of a Poor Little Child brought nationwide success and marked the beginning of a prolific period in which he published a book nearly every year. In 1936, he died from cancer of the palate.

The literary journal Nyugat (Hungarian for "West"), which played an invaluable role in the revitalization of Hungarian literature, was founded in 1908 and Kosztolányi was an early contributor, part of what is often called the "first Nyugat generation", publishing mainly in poetry.

Starting in the 1920s he wrote novels, short stories, and short prose works, including Nero, the Bloody Poet (to the German edition of which Thomas Mann wrote the introduction), Skylark, The Golden Kite and Anna Édes. In 1924 he published a volume of verse harkening back to his early work, entitled The Complaints of the Sad Man.

Kosztolányi also produced literary translations in Hungarian, such as (from English, at least) Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", "The Winter's Tale", Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland", Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey", Lord Alfred Douglas' memoirs on Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling's "If—". He was the first authentic translator of Rilke's poetry, and he worked a Hungarian masterpiece after Paul Valéry's "Cimetiere Marin". [Goodreads]


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