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Skylark (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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"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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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?Read more ›
Events are firmly anchored in time and place: the week from Friday 1st to Friday 8th September 1899 in the Hungarian town of Sárszeg, a fictionalized form of Subotica, the author's place of birth. By the time Skylark was written (first published 1924), the "war to end all wars" had swept away the easy-going, optimistic way of life described. Gone too was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Hungary had been deprived of two-thirds of its territory. Subotica had been attached to Serbia, a part of Yugoslavia. Skylark is a warts and all but very loving portrait of life in Hungary's second largest town in the last years before the cataclysm.
The closing pages of the book draw us into reflecting that although the triangular family relationship has been restored, it cannot be indefinitely sustained. Neither was Mother and Father's binge sustainable. Nor was it desirable that the life of the town as described should be sustained for ever, even if that were possible. Yet the new order that replaced it could hardly be said to have been better, and the conflagration of transition from the old to the new (of which we pick up just a hint in the narrative) was immeasurably worse. A relatively easy read of less than 60,000 words, this is a thought provoking novel.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This small, beautiful novel is a pleasure to read, filled with profound understandings of the human condition and spirit, and descriptions that bring the characters, the town, and... Read morePublished 25 days ago by jane
It's a little unheralded masterpiece on the level of Joyce's "The Dead." It starts quite slowly, the characters aren't exalted, what happens in the book is very subtle, and... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Cochise
Truly a lovely book, compact in scope but revealing the human drama, reminiscent of Ha Jin's In the Pond. The prose is gorgeous and spare at the same time. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Steven E. Sanderson
I seem to have gotten something a little different from "Skylark" than many readers. I disagree with the seeming readers' consensus that "Mother and Father" have... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Diana
This book is about the eponymous character, Skylark, mostly insofar as it describes her absence. Her physical ugliness is the burden under which she and her parents labor, and it... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Michael Moisio
Wonderfully evocative of the era and the closing days of the empirePublished 7 months ago by richard p benner
I kept expecting more in the way of plot and character development. I could fine little to keep me interested in pursuing the daily and dull lives of this sad family.Published 10 months ago by Joseph G. Murray
This extraordinary novel moves in the interstices of domestic life—deeply Chekhovian in sensibility, the novel is allusive and denies easy schematization. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Steiner
To be honest, my expectations about this book were bigger. I had read a positive review about it in TIME magazine a long time ago and thought that the concept of ugliness has not... Read morePublished 14 months ago by Eleni Ilektra Messini