2020 Grateful 30: Found in Translation

Ever since the local librarian Mrs Byrne turned a blind eye to me signing up my parents as members of the village library and then choosing books for them, mar dhea,* I’ve been an avid reader. I wonder if she knows what a huge influence our collaboration has had on my life.

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A literary exclusive

In my fantasy world, I’m sitting on a couch being interviewed by Ryan Tubridy or Oprah Winfrey about my new book. One of them says that  they think I write like Marion Keyes (I’ve been told this before) and I say, hand on my heart, that I can’t comment as I’ve never read anything the woman has ever published. Being told you write like someone is a double-edged sword. It can be flattering and it can be disparaging. I’ll admit to being influenced by authors but I would hate to think I was mirroring anyone, either consciously or subconsciously.

So when I received an e-mail from Mr Bernard Adams in response to my latest Budapest Times piece on having fun with money and strangers, asking whether I’d ever read Kosztolányi’s sixth story in his  Esti Kornél series, I was flattered until I realised that it wasn’t my style he was talking about, but the content of my piece. But even then I could say, hand on my heart, that I hadn’t. Yes, I’ve blogged about Kosztolányi before, I always wave and say hi when I pass his statue on the tram,  and I’m very fond of his poem about the trees on üllői út but I hadn’t ever read any of his stories.

Mr Adams had attached a translation of the story for me to see the parallels; a translation he had done himself – one of a collection that won the  prestigious PEN Translation Award in 2008. He’s now living near the Balaton and still translating. I was bemoaning the lack of available translations from Hungarian to English and am delighted to hear that his book is coming out next month. The Adventures of Kornél Esti is being published by New Directions in the USA (ISBN 978-0-8112-1843-6) and you can pre-order it here. This 1933 interlinking sequence of stories  features Mr Esti, the central character, who is ‘the embodiment of senseless revolt, irresponsibility and latent cruelty’. Kosztolányi has some great lines: I’ve just been keen on rotten cigarettes and rotten women /  I wasn’t born to save that branch of humanity which, when not afflicted by fire, flood and pestilence, organizes wars and artificially causes fire, flood and pestilence / I was discovered but not unmasked.

You might this it strange that I’m resorting to such a shameless plug on what up to now as been an ‘ad free’ blog. But there’s an exception to every rule. The story is wonderful. I’d love to be able to read it in Hungarian but that ain’t likely to happen any time soon! For those of you who share my poor mastery of the language, you can read the translation here – ahead of print! A huge thanks to Mr Adams for so graciously agreeing to allow me to share it. Please respect the copyright… and if you like it, buy the book.