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Skylark (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 2, 2010


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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 222 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173392
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173398
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This alternately hilarious and melancholy classic of Hungarian literature plumbs the psyches of a husband and wife burdened with a homely daughter. After Ákos Vajkay and his wife, Antónia, dispatch Skylark, their stifling, unattractive and overbearing daughter, to visit with relatives, they revitalize their lives in Szarszeg, their backwater village, and recapture their youth with the Panthers, a schnapps-swilling men's social club. During their daughterless week, Ákos and Antónia rekindle their joy in living, taking in a transformative production of The Geisha and engaging in a drinking binge and epic meals at the local tavern. With their health and happiness returned to them, the disquieting realization of Skylark's return sets in, leading to an inevitable confrontation. The author slyly depicts a smalltown life that remains curiously relevant today with his exploration of the tension between the politics of the left and the right, atheism and Christianity, and parents and their children. Though written 80 years ago, this remains a deftly executed, thoughtful meditation on mortality and the passage of time. (Mar.)
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Review

"Dezso Kosztolányi belonged to a remarkable generation of Central European writers. This novel is a masterpiece. From the opening sentences, he is drawing on nuance and subtle detail; comedy and pathos. Every gesture speaks volumes…..for all the humour and the easy comedy this lively study of small life is as profound as a prayer, as subtle as a lament." –The Irish Times

"This short, perfect novel seems to encapsulate all the world’s pain in a soap bubble. Its surface is as smooth as a fable, its setting and characters are unremarkable, its tone is blithe, and its effect is shattering." –Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books 

“The risks of projects like the Central European Classics is that some of the books will proved to be worthy rather than interesting novels which one reads out of duty rather than pleasure. This is not at all the case with Dezso Kosztolanyi’s Skylark; I cancelled a dinner engagement because it was too gripping to put down.” –The Guardian (London)

“Kosztolanyi’s precise description of his chosen microcosm has produced a gem of a book that is completely convincing in its depiction of characters and the society they move in…The language is invigorating and at times hilarious.” –The Independent (London)

“Beneath this gentile satire, Kosztolanyi is steadily subverting the arrogant certainties of his times, from the vainglory of the Austrian hierarchy and its rural quislings to the loud but empty boasting of the oppressed intelligentsia.” –The Observer (London)

“Examining the unaddressed tensions of the Vajkay family, Skylark...depicts the closed, debilitating atmosphere of provincial life in the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian empire…Richard Acze’s line version of Skylark catches its author’s irony and sharp, atmospheric nuance. This hidden masterpiece is now being presented to a wide audience, an event to be celebrated.” –The Irish Times

Skylark, published in Hungarian in 1924, is the most original, economical and painful novel I have read in a long time.” –The Times (London)

“..a superb, deeply poignant short novel, but also of a gifted translator…I believe that anyone can enjoy, say, Skylark as literature in English, even if they have no special knowledge of, or interest in, Hungary and the lost world of the Habsburg monarchy…Kosztolanyi’s writing is good enough to transcend the cultural difference that does exist.” –Timothy Garton-Ash, The Independent (London)

“Kosztolanyi was a ringleader in the 20th-century flowering of Hungarian literature, a poet who reformed the language, and a fiction writer of world class.” –The Guardian (London)

“Deszo Kosztolanyi simultaneously sustains a line of complex political paradoxes alongside a strikingly convincing human narrative.” –The Herald (Glasgow)

"...[an] alternately hilarious and melancholy classic of Hungarian literature...The author slyly depicts a smalltown life that remains curiously relevant today with his exploration of the tension between the politics of the left and the right, atheism and Christianity, and parents and their children. Though written 80 years ago, this remains a deftly executed, thoughtful meditation on mortality and the passage of time." –Publishers Weekly

“This short, perfect novel seems to encapsulate all the world’s pain in a soap bubble. Its surface is as smooth as a fable, its setting and characters are unremarkable, its tone is blithe, and its effect is shattering.” –Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books

"Dezso Kosztolányi belonged to a remarkable generation of Central European writers. This novel is a masterpiece. From the opening sentences, he is drawing on nuance and subtle detail; comedy and pathos. Every gesture speaks volumes.....for all the humour and the easy comedy this lively study of small life is as profound as a prayer, as subtle as a lament." –The Irish Times

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Customer Reviews

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Sad and funny.
Malcolm M. Gaynor
For the more conservative of his readers - D.K. offers you the joy and health of learning these lessons vicariously.
Chicago Chuck
Its funny & sad and ridiculous and a very very good book.
OhAmy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is an unusually fine short novel which conveys the spirit of life in small town Hungary at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. If you are unsure where to start with Kosztolanyi, I would read Skylark first and then move on to Anna Edes or his short fiction.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bartolo on May 2, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found out about this little gem through Deborah Eisenberg's review in The New York Review of Books and would send anyone interested to that website for her own eloquent praise. "A perfect novel," she called it, and not only writes extensively and effusively about it but submits to an online interview in its cause.

There is originality in the conception and plot of the novel, wonderful descriptive passages, and, even rarer, an unremitting honesty in the author's treatment of his characters. We are not allowed to look down from a distant perch at these small-town, constrained people with their modest and circumscribed lives, nor, as they become close and vivid to us, are they elevated to heroic or even special status. Kosztolanyi avoids the formulae of tragedy, pathos, and (despite the chapter headings and humor) farce, nor is he content to serve up social science, fraught with self-justifying psychological and sociological descriptions. We are presented with an account that invokes all those genres, but finally is a synthesis, is nuanced and fully, compassionately human.

I would leave it to Ms Eisenberg to provide more detail than that, but having great esteem for her own short stories, I myself didn't require it. Every line of this slender volume counts, and to describe it overmuch seems almost beside the point.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By MJ on June 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
I generally agree with what the previous reviewer has stated, although I found this short novel (as well as Anna Edes) brilliant and almost totally flawless. A book which I didn't want to finish simply because I truly enjoyed the experience of reading it.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 1998
Format: Paperback
There is nothing earth-shattering about this novel except the unusual clarity of Kosztolányi's descriptive powers. More so than the novel Anna Édes, however, Skylark puts a burden of thought onto the reader. Kosztolányi only narrates, offering no judgements or opinions, and so his narration is very focused. The translation preserves this and is generally praiseworthy; Kosztolányi's characteristic terse, direct style and colorful phrasing come through unscathed.
This edition has a nice 10 page introduction by Péter Esterházy, which gives interesting information about the author as well as some background information about Hungarian literature. The cover and binding are, in my opinion, quite handsome also.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 26, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This deceptively unsettling novel tells the story of the Vajkay family over one week in September 1899. The Vajkays live, in almost cloistered fashion, in Sárszeg, a backwater town in the grandiose Austro-Hungarian Empire of Franz Joseph and the Habsburgs. Father Ákos is fifty-nine, a retired archivist; mother Antónia is fifty-seven; and daughter Skylark (one of the most incongruously named characters in fiction) is thirty-five. She dotes on her parents, and in truth they are all she has, because she is -- there is no other word for it -- ugly.

The family's inveterate routine is interrupted when Skylark goes to stay with relatives on the plains for a week. Because Skylark had done all the cooking, Father and Mother have to eat out, at the King of Hungary restaurant. There they meet old acquaintances and they are drawn out of their shells into the provincial social life of Sárszeg, including a night at the theater and, for Father, eating and drinking with the Panthers, the local club of bon vivants. Father and Mother are rejuvenated, at least temporarily. But then it is time for Skylark to return. Was she, too, re-invigorated over that week? Does she have any new prospects for marriage? Or do things return to the way they were?

From that outline SKYLARK might sound like pretty mundane fare. But Dezso Kosztolányi, one of the leading Hungarian writers of his time, makes of it a very engaging light novel, alternately funny and poignant. The writing is brisk, deft, and assured.

On one level SKYLARK is a superb portrayal of the bourgeoisie of provincial Kakania, a keen yet gentle satire of their smug but gormless existence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By aruna on January 22, 2012
Format: Paperback
The novel is set in a small burg (the author's hometown) in Austro- Hungarian Empire. The narrative is about how Vajkays, an elderly couple, spend their week when their daughter is away. Chapter I " in which the reader is introduced to an elderly couple and their daughter, the apple of their eye, and hears of complicated preparations for a trip to the plains." sets the tone for the novel.

And, how do Mother and Father negotiate the week without the `apple of their eye'. Interestingly, life is lively for the two as " the Vajkays attend the Sarszeg performance of The Geisha", "the couple talk to a fledgling poet." Of course, Father reconnects to Panthers' Table which was formed ...."with not unworthy aim of popularizing consumption of alcohol and promoting gentlemanly friendship. " At home, Mother plays the piano which was shut a long long time ago.

Mother and Father become a part of the liveliness the small burg can afford not as a rebellion against their daughter. For Skylark, their daughter is caring, devoted though domineering . Nor are they seeking escape in her absence from the seclusion enjoined on them and ugly looking Skylark. They are drawn into this lively world due to circumstances beyond their control. They hesitate to accept that they relish some of the things they did. Somewhere also they feel a sense of guilt. This tension brings them to express the hidden feelings towards the daughter. The author beautifully explains the Chapter for this event "in which, after several years in the making, the great day of reckoning finally arrives, and our heroes receive from life the solace and just deserts that come to each and every one of us."

What happens when Skylark returns? Do things come back to normal? What has Skylark gone through?
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