Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.75 shipping
Sunflower (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 14, 2007
|New from||Used from|
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
Frequently bought together
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"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)
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The novel has a sort of "hero of everyday life" - Pistoli -- if we allow heroism to embrace a character whose flaws are conspicuous yet brash and indicative of a certain flamboyance. Let's just say that he is a weathered old scoundrel who runs from one affair to another with local women of all classes and walks of life, yet he's firmly convinced that he loved them all and they all loved him and that their arrangements were mutually beneficial. He's akin to the "superfluous man" (usually a member of the country gentry) of mid-19th century Russian novels, but a veritable ball of fire and directed energy in comparison to his useless fictional counterparts from farther east. Pistoli is one of a set of six main characters who are arrayed in some kind of characterological matrix, something like the set of attractions/repulsions seen in Goethe's odd novel, "Elective Affinities". Real and potential erotic (and possibly Romantic, in the full-blown sense of that term) relationships, connect the characters; it must be added that they usually take a farcical turn. The set of six (I can't imagine the symbols that would connect them - maybe wavy lines with arrows at each end) is:
Kálmán Ossuary . . . . .Eveline Nyíres (Birch)
Andor Álmos-Dreamer . . . . .Risoulette
Pistoli . . . . .Malvina Maszkerádi
Of course the reader's attention is arrested by the names, allegorical in intent. The translator, John Bátki, has split his approach to these names: He never uses the Magyar for "Ossuary" (which might be something like Csontváry) or the English (Birch) for Nyíres. (Eveline Nyíres, a benign young woman who appears to be waiting for "her one true love" to arrive, is at the center of the story that begins in Budapest. Soon she is on her way to her country home - "Bujdos" or "The Hideaway" -- where she is the object of the hapless love of Álmos-Dreamer, of Pistoli's romantic pursuit that gets sidetracked as soon as he meets Maszkerádi, and of Ossuary's far more cynical pursuit.) On the other hand "Álmos" itself means something like "dreamer" or "sleeper", yet Bátki opts for the redundancy in his case. Pistoli is once alluded to as "Pistol" (its meaning). Risoulette's Magyar name is never given. Everyone thinks of her in terms of her French nickname, perhaps alluding to her outlook on life and her behavior (she has been a mistress to many local men, and she remains on good terms with them after the break-ups, even happy to dispense maternal and courtship advice to them). Her life reflects a portrait of a middle-class Parisian woman of numerous affairs, as presented in French novels of the late romantic era, and perhaps it follows a model created by the novels she and Eveline read. Maszkerádi (a detester of just such novels) comes over into English straightforwardly as "masquerader" or "woman wearing a mask", one designed, in her case, to keep men at their distance. She is not opposed to erotic flings in principle, but rather to the misguided notions that men have of enshrining or attempting to totally possess women to whom they have made love. Something of a female Nietzschean, she's a skeptic about the dance between the sexes (as is Pistoli, though he tries to remember his partners fondly -- one of his ways of putting himself to sleep each night is engaging in imaginary conversations with loves of the past and the future). As to the name Ossuary, what metaphorical graveyard or boneyard does the author have in mind? Probably the fact that young Kálmán, a fop and wastrel from Budapest (who has been pursuing Eveline, his main source of funds, but settles for her friend Maszkerádi as a bed partner), a man who wanders nightly from casino to brothel to café and lives off hand-outs, is bereft of any and all spiritual qualities. His soul is the hard and empty repository of affections and passions that he has no intention of requiting. While the relations among these six form the backbone of the story, the novel has other heroes and objects of contemplation: the Magyar language itself and the style and pace of Hungarian small-town and country life in the 1880s-1890s. Much of this portrait of a place and time is carried by minor characters (see below); as a depiction of a way of life still intact during the author's childhood, it has an elegant twin in Deszö Kostolányi's "Skylark".
The region of the story is "The Birches" in northeastern Hungary at the edge of that land's great plain. Its main town, now a city of 100,000, is Nyíregyháza, Krúdy's hometown. While there are a few scenes set in Budapest, exhibiting Krúdy's familiarity with the city's demi-monde and its nightlife (about which he wrote many colorful feuilletons when he was a journalist), the story's heart is in the countryside, depicted in a rich descriptive prose that tries to recapture a bygone era that resonates with Krúdy, probably because it was the scene of his own youth. It's a countryside filled with eccentrics and men and women who are fatalists, but very lively and entertaining ones at that (gypsies and lovers of gypsy music who drink in the sunrise, doughty innkeepers, obsessive fondlers of family heirlooms, vagrants). They seem to wring every possible pleasure (and pleasurable pain) out of their simple surroundings. And this is where Krúdy's mastery of prose comes into play, with extended metaphors, tropes, and phrases that overflow the boundaries of the rational and the sensible. Rather than engaging in the "pathetic fallacy" his writing is full of nature poetry that implies a kind of pantheism extending not only to the usual flora and fauna, but to inanimate and homely objects as well. Here are a few examples:
"High above the reeds, where the air is as empty as space floats a nameless solitary bird, musing about the aimlessness of life on earth. The clods on the road, serf-souls many centuries old, cling to the carriage wheels."
"A glove pulled off the hand might feel as Mr. Pistoli felt. The russet brown cloak's undone buttons might have sensed his keen disappointment."
"The moonlight over The Birches advanced hugger-mugger in the sky like a shepherd hiding a lamb under his coat."
When is the last time you read an ascription of consciousness to buttons or gloves? And, with respect to convolutions of the human mind, Krúdy' is equally eccentric in his comparisons and descriptive phrases:
"Mr. Álmos-Dreamer nodded without emotion, a most peculiar nod, like a one-legged man confronting his lost limb preserved in spirits."
Regarding Risoulette's husband, the Captain, an old man housebound by gout:
"His head, topped by an otter hat, sank a little lower. Next he struck up a conversation with his own foot, evidence that he had not renounced social life for good."
One more example will serve to demonstrate the author's ambiguous relationship with romantic conceits, highlighted by deflating remarks made at the end of someone's (or his own authorial) rhetorical excess. In response to Eveline's worries about nocturnal sounds in the yard behind her country house, Maszkerádi says:
"Nah, it's just the unusual weather we're having . . . It's all that meteoric crap, -- ashes and dust from burnt-out stars - the winds sweep into the atmosphere ... It's only the night plucking an old mandolin string that's been lying silent for years. No need to go mushroom-crazy, like some fungus that suddenly pops up, so glad to be among us."
If, like me, the reader knows no Magyar other than a few useful traveler's phrases, he or she has to take Lukac's word that Krúdy is the 20th century master of Hungarian prose. Lukacs was skeptical that Sunflower could be translated in any meaningful way, but John Bátki's translation has persuaded him otherwise, and I agree with that assessment based on just how well - and oddly! - this English-language version reads). Minor characters fill in the picture of an era and a place, women with nicknames like "Stony Dinka" (née Jolan Weiss, daughter of the local furrier); Kakuk ("Cuckoo"), a vagrant who acts as Pistoli's courier delivering love letters and requests for assignations; and another likeable scoundrel, Zõld Diamant ("Green Diamond"), a philosophical old Jewish habitué of Budapest's casinos and brothels, who is an intelligent foil to the general thoughtlessness and narcissism of his companion on a night-raid, Kálmán Ossuary.
I won't give away how the story ends, though it involves a preternatural grand finale for Pistoli and the possible inception of a sedate romance leading to marriage. The book is, in brief, a romantic comedy tinged with worldliness and given an extra charge by the vividness of its language. It's also a reverie for a world that has just vanished, to the chagrin of its author.
The major part of SUNFLOWER, written in 1918, is set in eastern Hungary in an area called the Birches (Nyirseg, where Krudy was born), but a portion is set in Pest, and one aspect of the novel is the contrast between the rural, marshy Birches and cosmopolitan Pest. Another aspect is the contrast between the old Magyar Hungary and the new increasingly European Hungary. But the principal preoccupation of the novel is with life and death and the pleasures and jealousies of love.
There is not an ounce of realism in the novel. Its counterpart in the world of the visual arts might be the dreamscapes of Chagall. It also is lusty and earthy (its counterpart from the world of music might be Orff's "Carmina Burana"). It is saturated with atmosphere, a dense and decadent Hungarian one.
It is so rich that reading it is rather slow going. There is much remarkable lyrical writing, but Krudy tends to spread it on thick, so at times I found myself thinking "Enough already -- get on with it." The most distinctive feature of the writing is the extensive use of similes, more than in any other novel I can think of. A few don't work (or were not successfully translated), but many are novel and striking. For example: "Mr. Almos-Dreamer nodded without emotion, a most peculiar nod, like a one-legged man confronting his lost limb preserved in spirits"; "But she merely smiled neutrally, bored and indifferent as a puma at the zoo"; and, "the smiles now playing on faces fade like silk discolored by the sun."
What is the sunflower of the title? Sunflowers are one of Krudy's favorite images, and they make for a very apt conclusion to the novel, which I quote (without, rest assured, creating a spoiler in the least): "Let crazy life rush headlong on the highway for others; we shall contemplate the sunflowers, watch them sprout, blossom, fade away. Yesterday they were still giants, but now, in autumn, they are thatch on the roof."
I was more favorably impressed by Krudy's "The Adventures of Sindbad" -- the only other fiction of his readily available in English translation and which I also reviewed on Amazon. But I suspect I may return to SUNFLOWER -- God willing (the novel is conducive to those sorts of sentiments) -- probably not to read it from cover to cover (there is not sufficient plot), but to sample, even luxuriate in, the richly decadent and nostalgic world of Gyula Krudy.