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Celestial Harmonies: A Novel Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1St Edition edition (March 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060501049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060501044
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 2.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Splicing the fine-grained nostalgia of Nabokov's Speak, Memory with the anarchic spirit of Looney Toons, Esterházy has created a vast anti-epic. The writer, whose family name holds a place in Hungarian history equivalent to that of the Churchills in British history, takes advantage of his genealogy by making numerous references to his many distinguished ancestorsâ€"the very title refers to a Haydn piece commissioned by one of the author's forefathers. Divided into two sections, the novel circles its mark with cunning and humor, lighting on strange outcroppings of family and national lore. The first section contains 371 "sentences," which are really micro to mid-range narratives, all of them about a "father," a term that constantly shifts in meaning: "It goes without saying. My father had many faces, one with a moustache, one with a double chin, one like a Cumanian, et cetera." Sometimes there is a direct reference to Esterházy's real father ("My father lost all he had, not to mention the estates, the fish ponds, the forests stretching up to Mór, the houses, the palaces, the stocks and bonds..."); sometimes the father is mythological; sometimes he is extracted from another literary text. The novel's second section relates more conventionally the struggle of the Esterházy family after 1945, when the Communists expropriated their property. Péter's father drinks, gets a job as an agricultural laborer and endures by withdrawing into an inner exile. The patient reader who perseveres through the sometimes knotty Magyar references and nods to writers like Witold Gombrowicz, James Joyce and Donald Barthelme will be rewarded with a sense of having submitted to an astonishing if exhausting outburst of creativity. This is a belated 20th-century masterpiece.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Esterházy is best known for playful, intricate experiments that bounce jauntily along to rules of their own devising. Here he presents a Hungarian family saga, albeit an intricate and playful one. The novel is divided into two books, the first containing fragmented glimpses of five centuries of the aristocratic Esterházy family, the second a somewhat more conventional narrative of the family's fortunes under Communism. Animating the book are a number of father figures—among them Esterházy's actual father—that owe much to the Central European literary tradition of the foolish, magical paterfamilias, and perhaps even more to Donald Barthelme's (dead) version. Ultimately, Esterházy's attempt to explode epic until it resembles the shards and mirrors of his own style doesn't quite live up to its ambition, though it yields many extraordinary moments.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Hovious on July 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This will sound like literary heresy, but the first recommendation I would make to those considering reading this book is that they start with Part II, the author's autobiographical narrative, and then go back and try Part I.

Peter Esterhazy's "Celestial Harmonies" is an ambitious and unusual literary proposal that really consists of two complementary books within a single cover. In the first part Esterhazy tells the story of his aristocratic family through 371 numbered vignettes, some only a few lines long, others spanning several pages. In the second part Esterhazy looks at Hungary's troubled passage through the 20th century, showing how his family got its first taste of the troubles ahead with the advent of Bela Kun's communist regime in 1919, then enjoyed a brief return to aristocratic normalcy before the Soviet satellite regime of the late 1940s took away all of the family's land, possessions and power.

The problem with this book is the construction of the first half, and that's the reason for the recommendation I made above. At some point the first half becomes such rough going that I'm afraid many readers will not make it past the halfway point, and that would be a shame. Esterhazy's approach to the first half was to tell the family's story as anecdotes involving a score of family patriarchs. The anecdotes are not in chronological order but rather skip back in forth in time: in most cases no dates are given. Perhaps Esterhazy wanted to keep his novel from seeming like a history book but I'm afraid the actual effect of his approach will be to send readers scurrying to their bookshelves for an encyclopaedia, as they try to look up a particular battle or Hungarian leader in order to put a given vignette in context.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Cornwell on March 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cannot adequately describe what it was like for me to have experienced Celestial Harmonies, but I will try:

Part I is deceptively simple in its reduction of several generations of Esterhazy men (father, grandfathers, great grandfathers, etc) into "father" and "son." Yet this narrative device allows us to experience Peter Esterhazy's own complex and wonderful family history first hand, with details presented in small "chapters," often out of sequence from one another. These pieces coalesce and provide the reader with an ancestrial memory of this great aristocratic family.

Part II is more linear in its presentaion, and focuses on Esterhazy men of the twentieth century and all that was lost to the ravages war, Communism and revolution. It provides a glimpse into a time and a place in the world that I don't often hear about(in the US).

Celestial Harmonies is a most rewarding experience and I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By PuroShaggy on July 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Using the word "ambitious" to describe a 800 page novel may seem obvious, but Peter Esterhazy pushes the meaning of that word with this epic semi-historical effort. The Esterhazy family, meaning Peter's direct ancestors, are a noble Hungarian family- Hungarian aristocracy and historical mover and shakers- going all the way back to the Middle Ages. In this highly stylized novel, the author attempts to capture some of this history, focusing on the personalities and eccentricities of his predecessors, before presenting a more autobiographical tale of his own personal upbringing in the years following WWII.
The first half of this book tackles centuries of Esterhazy history in a jumbled, non-chronological, seemingly random series of numbered notes about the various "fathers" of the Esterhazy clan. Jumping from the 20th century to the 17th back to the 19th- at times on the same page- the action essentially is plotless, but Esterhazy's descriptive skills and his unceasing sense of humor turn what could be a literary mess into an inspired piece of reading. While it possibly could have benefitted from a little editing, the first 400 plus page section is an exhilarating and joyous read.
The second half of the book represents a more normal novel as the author tackles his own life and the suffering he ensued because he was an Esterhazy after the fall of the Hungarian empire. Not as stylized as the first half, it is still an amazing piece of writing, both informative and entertaining.
This is not an easy read, but it is a worthwhile read- truly deserving of the term 'epic'.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas T Corpuz on May 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I picked this novel up after reading the LA times book review. I was not disappointed; the book is sweeping in its scope without losing minute focus on the actions of individual men. The first portion of the book is devoid of a central character; only family relations exist this early in the story. Esterhazy tears down the walls of Hungarian society and allows the reader to fly over and inspect the scene for himself. Like God himself the reader is privy to all of actions of Peter's countrymen. The scene, at times, is both beautiful and appalling and leaves the reader aware of the continuity of the past and present, aware of how we all are "Fathers" "Mothers" "Sisters" and "Brothers" of one form or another.
The second portion of the book is a loose biography of the Esterhazy family stretching from the early 20th century to the early 1960s. Throughout all of the degradations suffered by the family, the father refuses to give up his birthright due to a Count: his Humanism.
In order to fully appreciate this book it is essential to have an understanding of Hungarian History and a knack for deciphering opaque references. Every word was carefully chosen so it is necessary to pay close attention to what you are reading, this, at times, slows the rhythm and makes the book seem longer than its 842 pages. If you have the time and will power then pick up this novel
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