6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 1998
There is something about the fiction of Eastern Europe that is both marvelous and undefinable. Milan Kundara's Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kadare's Three-Arched Bridge (above) do so much more than tell a story and draw characters. They define places and moods with great style and subtlety. Hungarian novelist George Konrad's A Feast in the Garden falls into this marvelous class of books. The "story" Konrad tells is not linear, and might not be considered even a story at all, the way it switches from place to place, time to time, and character to character. It is a serious work, dealing both with the pogrom of the Jews under the Nazis and Soviet oppression during the 50's and 60's, but the author's tone is not one of unremitting grief.
Like the Kundara novel, I believe this book might best be read on a series of summer afternoons, at a European sidewalk cafe, as people pass and friends drop by. The cafe is important to Konrad's world.
One brief description, by the intellectual womanizer Janos while visiting Jerusalem, is worth quoting in full: "There he was, a city loafer, sitting in an Arab cafe in Jerusalem because he could not find a decent Eastern European Jewish cafe. How can one wait for the Messiah without a decent cafe? Where do you think the Messiah would go first, where would he start his preaching? In such a cafe, obviously." Many more such delights await the reader of this fine book.
on October 17, 2014
I remember how this book was glorified, back in 1988, when the Dutch translation was published. The next year the Iron Curtain fell and Konrad was the fame of the day. Earlier I read 'the Visitor' and was very charmed by it. But this book was a disappointment. This novel is centered around the Hungarian capital Budapest and its surrounding, under communist regime. Konrad presents a number of "voices", including his own as a writer, looking back on his life. These are the interesting parts. But the other voices (including a sarcastic old man and a woman obsessed by suicide) are really awful. I think, in the end, it was the disengaged writing style, very descriptive (you can find it with a lot of Central European writers) that put me of and made me close the book about halfway. I noticed Konrad's glory has totally faded.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Publisher's Weekly blurb provided by amazon.com hits the target. Why Konrad bothers to invent "David Kobra" to provide the author's seemingly randomly connected reflections when it's evident that they are Konrad's own life, more or less, strains the limits of what we expect from a previously capable writer. Wartime descriptions and subsequent reports from Hungarian recent history as witnessed first-hand enliven parts of this novel, but too much attention to extraneous affairs of the heart and the head drag down any momentum gained by this novel's livelier moments. This work sorely needed a tough editor.
I would have accepted either an tighter autobiography or an energized novel, but not this rambling narrative, lazily assembled and languidly paced with little regard for sustaining any reader's interest but the author's own for his story. Disappointing, given the inherent interest of much of the material of a life spanning the past half-century and more in Hungary.
An English-language reader curious about this period would better find "The Undefeated" by Palocsi or "My Happy Days in Hell" by Faludy as first-person testimonies of life lived under such turmoil as Stalinism, or novels like Konrad's earlier "The Loser" for communism, Fischer's "Under the Frog" for the 1956 revolution or "Fateless" by Kertesz for the Nazi camps suitable for more gripping stories.