Publisher: NYRB Classics
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
A sunflower hung its head in the failing evening light, as if blindly searching for the sun in the ground. The sun into which it would usually stare and which was now nowhere to be found.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
It is 1900, give or take a few years. The Vajkays—call them Mother and Father—live in Sárszeg, a dead-end burg in the provincial heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Father retired some years ago to devote his days to genealogical research and quaint questions of heraldry. Mother keeps house. Both are utterly enthralled with their daughter, Skylark. Unintelligent, unimaginative, unattractive, and unmarried, Skylark cooks and sews for her parents and anchors the unremitting tedium of their lives.
Now Skylark is going away, for one week only, it’s true, but a week that yawns endlessly for her parents. What will they do? Before they know it, they are eating at restaurants, reconnecting with old friends, attending the theater. And this is just a prelude to Father’s night out at the Panther Club, about which the less said the better. Drunk, in the light of dawn Father surprises himself and Mother with his true, buried, unspeakable feelings about Skylark.
Then, Skylark is back. Is there a world beyond the daily grind and life’s creeping disappointments? Kosztolányi’s crystalline prose, perfect comic timing, and profound human sympathy conjure up a tantalizing beauty that lies on the far side of the irredeemably ordinary. To that extent, Skylark is nothing less than a magical book. [Goodreads]
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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