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Metropole Paperback – October 1, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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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: #1,229,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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"Metropole" is a story of confusion written with absolute clarity. In brief the narrative tells of the Hungarian linguist Budai's unaccountable stranding in a strange city (he slept on the plane that brought him to his destination, and paid no attention on the bus ride to the center of the city, imagining that he was on course on the way to a professional conference in Helsinki; he soon gets a very rude awakening). Most critics would reach for the adjective "Kafkaesque" to characterize this story, but that's insufficient and does justice neither to Kafka nor to Karinthy. The city, apparently a densely built metropolitan capital, is strange in more ways than one. It is almost insanely crowded with people, requiring continuous queuing, elbow-jostling, pushing, and shoving at any and all routine locations and activities throughout the day. It's a multiracial society in which some members seem to wear color-coded workers' overalls to indicate their official functions or vocations, but, as with everything else in the city, Budai cannot work out the details or the meaning of what he's beholding. Strangest of all is its language, both as spoken and written. As a professional linguist Budai exhausts himself with systematic approaches to deciphering even the simplest, most often repeated phrases, but he never quite succeeds. Meanings seem to constantly shift as he approaches their decoding. He is overcome by the fear that he may be stranded here forever, though he never stops trying to breach the barriers that confront him. Strange as it is the city has features that are both familiar and always a bit "off" at the same time. There are stadiums with sports teams and fans, yet Budai can only guess at the nature of the game he witnesses.Read more ›
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