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Sunflower (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 14, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A reverie on love and death, countryside and city, this gothic fairy tale from Hungarian Krúdy (1878-1933) was originally published in Hungary in early 1918. Spooked by a midnight intruder, 22-year-old Eveline leaves her home in Budapest and returns to her Hun-garian riverfront estate. There, Eveline is haunted by the memory of her ex-fiancé, the dissolute Kálmán Ossuary, and is courted by a patient local bachelor, Andor Álmos-Dreamer. The meandering plot takes a turn upon the arrival of Eveline's best friend and opposite, Malvina Maszkerádi. Malvina is "the wealthiest heiress in Budapest: somber, frosty, intrepid, and miserable," and she proceeds to stir things up considerably. The book's only acknowledgement of WWI is, perhaps, through its celebration of what is being lost: "old Hungary, silent with the sleep of the blessed, the humble, the poor." Given to expansive lyric digressions, Krúdy is now recognized as a great prose stylist, but an English equivalent proves elusive here. The story, however, rewards patience: the last chapter, where the year has circled back to autumn and an opportunity opens for Eveline, is surprising and moving.
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"Krudy, a well-known early 20th-century Hungarian author, produced a prolific body of 60 novels and 3000 short stories before dying in relative obscurity. In this novel, appearing in English for the first time...Krudy eulogizes a way of life already disappearing as the work was being written and presents a glimpse of rural Hungary that is at once comic, nostalgic, romantic, and erotic. The introduction by John Lukacs provides insight into Krudy's life and works. Recommended for academic collections or large public libraries." --Library Journal

"Maybe I should just write, "Read Sunflower" and leave it at that...Krudy has been compared to his great contemporaries (Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Joseph Roth) and his great successors (Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez). Other comparisons come to mind. His work purrs with the fin-de-siecle urbane eroticism in Arthur Schnitzler's stories. His shifting viewpoints and streams of consciousness recall Virginia Woolf. Like Kafka, he's willing to let dream and reality mingle. He's ironic and wise about the human heart and life's futility, like Chekhov. His fond portrayal of rural life evokes the Levin scenes in Anna Karenina...Sunflower is an erotic carnival...The more translations of this untranslatable genius there are, the closer we'll be to his shimmering, melancholy world." --Los Angeles Times

“Gyula Krudy…a Hungarian Proust.” —The New York Times (Charles Champlin)

“Gyula Krudy, a master of Hungarian prose…” —The New York Times (Ivan Sanders)

"[Krudy's] literary power and greatness are almost past comprehension...Few in world literature could so vivify the mythical in reality...With a few pencil strokes he draws apocalyptic scenes about sex, flesh, human cruelty and hopelessness." —Sándor Márai

“For those who like Hungarian music enough to give Hungarian writing a try, I’d particularly recommend Gyula Krudy’s novel Sunflower, set in the marshy, birch-covered region of northeast Hungary…Historian John Lukacs has compared Krudy’s writing to the sound of a cello.” —Music Web International (Lance Nixon)

“Krudy writes of imaginary people, of imaginary events, in dream-like settings; but the spiritual essence of his persons and of their places is stunningly real, it reverberates in our minds and strikes at our hearts.” —The New Yorker (John Lukacs)

“There were few outside, actual events in Krudy’s life…he was always conscious of his landed gentry origins yet he preferred the company of the poor, the simple, the dispossessed… he spent most of his life in the capital…He knew every street, every inn, almost every house. For him Budapest was Paris and London, Rome and New York; I don’t think he spent more than a few months of his entire life away from Hungary.” —Paul Tabori

“Gyula Krudy’s luminous and willful pastoral, people with archaic, semi-mythical figures–damned poets and doomed aristocrats, dreamily erotic hetaerae and rude country squires–is pure fin-de-siècle, art nouveau in prose for which I can’t think of a real Anglo-Saxon or even Celtic-English literary equivalent… approach him and his Sunflower as a happy stumbling on an extraordinary attic of the rambling house of the European imagination, strangely lit, and crammed with richly faded dreams.” —The Hungarian Quarterly (W.L. Webb)

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Main edition (August 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171861
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171868
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #846,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Sunflower is like a fairy tale, only more like a dream. Eveline, a "country miss" living in Budapest, has her house broken into by her former fiancé, a wastrel who's been using her for money. Next morning she packs up the household and returns to her country estate, the Hideaway. Her dearest friend in rural Hungary is a solitary and melancholy man, Andor Álmos-Dreamer, with a fantastical family history and a devotion to Eveline that will lead him to end his life--then begin it again at her request.

Eveline is also joined by her best female friend, Malvina Maszkerádi, a wealthy cosmopolitan heiress who is a bit caustic for the countryside. Kálmán, Eveline's beau, also follows her to Hideaway. Rural life is full of beautiful dreams, epic loves, and constant torment. Everything is poetic and doomed, and described so vividly and mythically as to bring the reader himself into the same dream Miss Eveline is experiencing.

Krúdy lived at a time when the Hungary of his youth was disappearing. Growing up in the Birches, the rural area where Sunflower is set, he spent most of his adult life in Budapest writing about the countryside and the old Hungarian ways. Eveline, and Álmos-Dreamer, are the foundation of those ways--cold winters spent wrapped in furs in front of the fire, reading and drinking local wine; paying respect to the old and debauched country squire; leaving behind the unfortunate acquaintances one has made in the city.

The melancholy, and the bursts of life amid the melancholy, Krúdy captures them both with mythical and moving language. Sunflower is like a sea to dive into and swim around in, not a book for wading in or just dipping a toe.
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"Sunflower" was translated into English by John Bátki in 1997 as part of a continuing series put out by the New York Review of Books that publishes "revived classics". It has an informative critical Introduction by John Lukacs, the Hungarian-American historian of broad experience and interests, a range that encompasses an obvious love of the literature of his native land. You can also read Lukacs's positive evaluations of Krúdy in his retrospective group portrait of a talented generation, Budapest 1900, and in his Introduction to a collection of Krúdy's newspaper pieces, "Krúdy's Chronicles", both worth reading if you have any interest in Hungarian life and letters. Krúdy lived and wrote (and made his living solely through writing) during the last three decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the first fifteen years of the Horthy Regency. In spite of its post-1867 political autonomy Hungary was a troubled half of that empire, ill at ease with its role and perhaps always wanting more than it could handle, given its ruling class's political short-sightedness and a consequent succession of self-inflicted crises. The picture did not improve within an independent but much shrunken nation that became obsessed with revisions of the Trianon Treaty that dismembered "Greater Hungary" (aka "millennial Hungary"). It was in this milieu that Krúdy was a bright shining star of Hungarian prose from his teen years to his forties, at which point, while he did not exactly vanish from his countrymen's consciousness, he became "old news", reclusive, probably alcoholic, certainly distressed and anxious about the direction of his personal life, and less prolific than he had been as a younger writer (and that was very prolific indeed).Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
'Sunflower' is nominally the story of Eveline, a young Hungarian woman from the upper classes, who leaves her home in Budapest and retires to her country manor after the disappointing end to her courtship with a roguish fellow named Kálmán. A friend, Miss Maszkerádi, joins her in her seclusion, and during their rural holiday, various eligible and not so eligible men pursue the two women, including the eccentric Mr. Álmos-Dreamer, the animated country squire Mr. Pistoli, and Kálmán himself, at last recognizing his mistake of letting Eveline go.

I say 'nominally the story of' because there is little else that happens, and thus the real focus of Krúdy's work is the Hungarian countryside and the manners of its people. Published in 1918, the setting of 'Sunflower', although no dates are given in the text, seems to date back to before the turn of the century, to an idyllic, carefree Hungary - or so it must have appeared to the war-weary, defeated nation at the end of WWI. Krúdy leaves me with the impression that 'Sunflower' was a time of landed gentry and their servants, of cultural mores that were observed as much in flouting them as by observing them (especially by the upper echelon of society), and of a rigid class structure where every person had their place and was content in it.

As such, 'Sunflower' has romantic, fairy-tale quality to it. Where Krúdy shines is as an evocative landscape painter - there were times when his descriptions of the natural world brought back rural memories of my own, even though the places I remember are a world away from his.
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