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A Book of Memories: A Novel Paperback – July 22, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Book of Memories is a novel within a novel. The outer shell of Hungarian author Peter Nadas's ambitious tale concerns a nameless Hungarian writer and his ménage à trois with an aging actress and a younger man in East Germany. While the contemporary writer's own story unfolds, he is busily at work on an historical novel about a German novelist named Thomas Thoenissen. As if a novel about a novelist writing about a novelist wasn't confusing enough, the two fictional writers have a great deal in common, including an unnatural affection for their mothers and a predilection for bisexual triangles. Throw into this already heady brew a great deal of Eastern European cold-war politics, and it becomes obvious that A Book of Memories requires a serious commitment from the reader.

Moving in time between the old Stalinist era and post-communist Eastern Europe, Peter Nadas convincingly conveys the effects of communism, both as it happened and as it collapsed. In his unnamed narrator he creates a perfect conduit between two times; the narrator grew up in a privileged communist family, the son of the state prosecutor in a Stalinist regime. In chronicling the boy's passage from child to man, Nadas paints a vivid portrait of the secrecy, fear, and tension in a society in which the personal and the political are often one and the same. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Published in Budapest in 1985 (and later in several languages), this powerful autobiographical novel is Nadas's first appearance in English. In the tradition of Proust, he has composed a psychological work that celebrates the primacy of emotions, discriminating between shades of feeling and exploring the deepest currents of relationship among his characters along with their physical, sexual, and political aspects. A young, hypersensitive Hungarian writer recalls his uneasy Budapest childhood and his Seventies sojourn in East Berlin, where he worked closely with a famous, emotionally unstable actress whose sometime lover, a German poet, became the love of his life; interspersed are chapters from a novel he is writing about a 19th-century German writer whose passions and experiences mirror his own. This rewarding but demanding work, ideal for readers with the leisure and appetite for rich, intensive analysis and fine literary craftsmanship, is essential for for all collections of significant contemporary literature.?Sister M. Anna Falbo, Villa Maria Coll. Lib., Buffalo,
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (July 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312427964
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427962
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,081,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Erika Borsos VINE VOICE on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was drawn to the cover ... a photo of the Hungarian Parliament building sitting on the edge of the Danube ... surrounded by a fog. Had I listened to the old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" ... most likely I would *not* have read the book. This is a highly complex and controversial book but *not* as one would expect, because of its political contents, the most probable reason that it was a five year battle with the censors in Hungary before it was permitted to be published. No ... the world has long acknowledged there was repression experienced in Central and Eastern Europe during the post World War II Communist occupation of this region. In fact, many books have been published examining the causes and outcomes of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. This book is risque because of the highly personal experiences revealed by the sensitive and intelligent main character whose memoirs we are reading. The daring revelations could push people's "buttons", those who make moral judgements about what two consenting adults do during intimate moments, those of the same gender or opposite. Frankly, had I known this was in the book, I would not have bought it. As it stands, the events unfolded gradually and amazingly, I was not shocked, after all, it was the main character's memoirs. The emotional complexity of the novel intertwines on many levels, with many different recollections of life experiences at different ages. The descriptions are highly personal and direct, it is as if we, the reader have a connection to how the character's mind works. The writing is elegant, the emotions are deep, the thoughts are intense ... It is a serious novel written with great attention to detail and texture.Read more ›
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Turnbull on October 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I was drawn into reading this book by the comparisons with Proust, which I don't think are really justified. It is a very good book, and has some superficial similarities, but I didn't find the same psychological insight in Nadas that Proust had. Nadas seems to have an exceptionally keen eye for external detail, and has many brilliant descriptions of things, but I don't think he has the same brilliance for interior, psychological details. A simple way to put it would be that where Proust writes about love, Nadas writes about sex.
The book also suffers from overly clever and elliptical story-telling, weaving together two distinct plots (which are confusingly both told in the first person, by very similar narrators), without clear indications of when it switches from one to the other. Nadas also adopts a faulkneresque non-linear narrative style, jumping around in time, which further confuses the issue. A few more concessions to readability would have benefitted the book enormously, in my opinion.
A last comment is that the book's central, climactic events hinge around the Hungarian revolution in 1950, but it assumes the reader already knows all the events of that period. If you don't know the timeline of events and the internal politics of Hungary during this turmoil, you would do well to brush up on it before reading Nadas's work.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dale W. Boyer on July 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
I decided to review this work in an attempt to counter some of the other tepid responses which, frankly, almost disssuaded me from starting the novel at all. But memories of a rave from Susan Sontag in The New Yorker a number of years ago caused me to persist, and I'm glad I did. This is a major novel -- a long, languid, occasionally frustrating one, granted, but one that nevertheless rewards a persistent reader. It helps to know that there are THREE "I" narrators; it also helps to know a little about Hungary's history, and to have some familiarity with the history of the cold war. While comparisons to Proust and Musil are probably inevitable, they are also a bit misleading, particularly in relation to Musil. What Nadas shares with Proust is his belief in the powers of perception and consciousness, as well as his long, delicate, slowly-unfolding lines. Essentially, this is a novel about the difficulties of finding love, set against the backdrop of 20th-century Hungary's inhospitable history. In particular, it is an audacious and sensitive exploration of sexuality and love, and a truly great novel. It is a must for lovers of great literature, and for those looking for a really masterful dissection of a gay sensibility. I am certain I will never forget it, and feel the way I always do in the presence of true art: enormously grateful to the author for having created it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 18, 1997
Format: Hardcover
In "The New Republic," July 28, 1997, pp. 32-36., Professor Stanislaw Baranczak of Harvard University writes that this..." is very likely the book that you have been awaiting since you read "Remembrance of Things Past," "The Magic Mountain" or "The Man Without Qualities"....
"...If a masterpiece is a book that makes us wonder how we could have claimed to understand our own existence before we read it, then Peter Nadas's book is unquestionably a masterpiece."
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book not only for its complicated plot and rich prose, but also for the way Nadas weaves multiple stories together; I've seen this is most of his other novels where the so-called "plot" becomes entangled with other narrators and other times, sort of like Louise Erdrich on acid. All in all, I love the way he describes sensory material present both in the world and internally, and the way both become ensnared. If you don't like a good, rich, complicated novel, stick to John Grisham.
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