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Metropole Paperback – October 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"A Central European classic to be discovered and relished." Eva Hoffman

"Nightmare is the only word that fully captures Karinthy's hellish metropolis, but while it's definitely a tale of horror, Metropole is also funny and touching." NPR

'With time, Metropole will find its due place in the twentieth-century library, on the same shelf as The Trial and 1984.' G. O. Chateaureynaud

"I' don t know when I ve read a more perfect novel-a dynamically helpless hero (in the line of Kafka), and a gorgeous spiral of action, nothing spare, nothing wrong, inventive and without artifice." Michael Hoffman TLS

"A stunning novel. Funny, nightmarish and jubilant."--Libération

"A masterpiece."--Magazine Littéraire

About the Author

Ferenc Karinthy was born in Budapest in 1921. He obtained a PhD in linguistics, and went on to be a translator and editor, as well as an award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist and water polo champion. He wrote over a dozen novels. This is the first novel to be translated into English. George Szirtes - award-winning poet, translator and editor - was born in Budapest and came to England as a refugee in 1956. His recent poetry collection, Reel, won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2005. He has translated over ten works of Hungarian poetry, fiction and drama into English.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 279 pages
  • Publisher: Telegram Books (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846590345
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846590344
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,099,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By E. L. Fay on December 3, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ferenc Karinthy (1921-1992), a trained linguist, was the son of famed Hungarian writer playwright Frigyes Karinthy. Not surprisingly, then, the complexity and confusion of language is the central theme of Karinthy's 1970 novel "Metropole" (originally entitled "Epépé"), the Kafkaesque tale of a hapless narrator stranded on the top floor of the figurative Tower of Babel.

The plot builds upon a basic but very ironic premise: Budai, a linguist, seems to have boarded the wrong plane on his way to a conference in Helsinki and has now ended up in a mysterious city in an unknown country with a singularly incomprehensible language. It is packed to overflowing: human congestion spills from the lobbies out into the streets and Budai is rudely rushed down sidewalks and through lines. Even the solitude of the hotel room he manages to acquire is afflicted by the alien alphabet he encounters in a framed printout presumably of hotel regulations. The overwhelming effect is one of claustrophobia reinforced by a rambling syntax that pushes headlong from page to page in lengthy paragraphs. A harried Budai roams from place to place in time with the narrative rhythm, attempting unsuccessfully to find . . . a way . . . out . . . OF . . . HERE! The very density of the urban dreamscape - its unyielding masses of humanity and mazes of streets, alleys, passageways, myriads of neighborhoods - seems to compress into a solid wall, entrapping Budai as effectively as any stone-and-mortar fortification. The mounting tension is palpable, even as it superficially plateaus when Budai settles into his hotel room, finds some work, and even acquires a sort of girlfriend.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Byrd on November 15, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In a moment of distraction, a linguist named Budai slips through the wrong door at the terminal, and, after boarding his plane, settles in for a long nap during the flight. When he wakes, he is hustled onto a shuttle bus and taken to a hotel where he finds it is impossible to make himself understood or understand anyone, despite his familiarity with dozens of spoken languages. Soon it becomes apparent that he has not landed in Helsinki, his original destination, but instead in an unknown, and ultimately unknowable, land - thus begins Budai's lonely, frustrating trek through the maze of 'Metropole', Ferenc Karinthy's only translated work up this time.

Other reviewers - and my own dim memory - insist on comparing 'Metropole' to Franz Kafka's work, and in some ways, I think that, for once, it's an apt comparison. It's most apparent in the idea of the bewildered man trying to make sense out of a society that is alien to him (or he to it), with the critical keys of information that would allow him to operate within that society seeming to dangle just out of his, and the readers, reach. Other comparisons will depend on the reader's assessment of what exactly Kafka was about. Whereas I've always thought of his works as very personal reflections of his percieved incompatability with life, Karinthy's novel is more universal - an example of a common man and the connections to society that shape our identity, connections that are excrutiatingly obvious only once they are severed.

'Metropole' then follows Budai as he tries to make sense of his situation and return home. No attempt at communication is open to him though, whether through a language he recognizes nor through any try at rudimentary sign language.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Donald Hunt on March 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
Metropole is a 2008 English translation of the Hungarian author's 1970 novel. The word "Kafkaesque" doesn't do justice to this novel. It is not "esque," it is more Kafkaesque than Kafka. What is it about Central Europe?

Metropole depicts a waking nightmare. A Hungarian linguist named Budai boards a plane to travel to a linguistics conference in Helskinki. He falls asleep in flight and wakes up when the passengers are deplaned in a strange city. Not Helsinki. The passengers are taken to a hotel where the protagonist, depite knowing ten languages, cannot make any sense of the spoken or written language. Nor can he find anyone who speaks any of the languages he does. They don't use Roman letters but luckily they use Arabic numerals. At the registration desk they take his passport, and they can't understand a word he says when he asks for it back. Budai is given a room and some local currency in exchange for what cash he has and the story begins.

The city is large and crowded with aggravated, unpleasant people. The people are of reconizably mixed racial types and wear recognizable clothing. The food is similar but all has a sickly sweet taste as do their alcoholic beverages. Budai can find no airports or any place that will have people speaking recognizable languages. There are churches but of no recognizable religion.

The hotel room gives Budai a comfortable base from which to explore and try to find a way out. What will happen when his money runs out? Will he ever make it back home? I won't spoil it for you.

Metropole is a well-written, readable yet highly disturbing allegory. The Cold War Eastern Bloc origins of the novel are obvious. But the fact that it disturbs us today speaks to something about the human condition that hasn't changed.
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