essays & reviews

Stopping the Void: on translation and adoption in The Paris Review Daily

"The enforced secrecy of my birth mother’s identity enshrouded her in a taboo from which I recoiled, as from some amorphous void. That void had made me, but it could also swallow me up."

An Unexpected Package: on Szilárd Borbély

"The kernel of the poem clearly lies in the sudden repugnance for the aggressiveness of poetry, which causes the poet to wish he were an unsheathed blade; it leads him to desire murder. And yet, despite his repugnance, he still has a need for lyric: 'With a tongue oozing flattery, who drips / poison into your ear. Who makes you mute …'"

On The Book of Mordechai & Lazarus, by Gábor Schein

"In Lazarus ... the narrative is repeatedly interspersed with lacunae, almost as if provoked by the more direct confrontation with the father and his plethora of missing details and unanswered questions. These lacunae are variously mentioned as places of silence, fire, a grave where the narrator and his father will be able to rest together."

The Pharmakos of Memory: on Lazarus by Gábor Schein

"And of course, in the most unforgettable paradox of all, there is the emergence of another, completely unretouched list. In his efforts to discover what really did happen to all of those in his father’s family who simply “didn’t come back”, the narrator is compelled to turn to the archives of a certain Gestapo officer, Wassermann: in other words, the most concrete information as to the possible fate of his father’s family is from the hand of the murderer himself."

A Veneer of Erudition: On Seiobo There Below for English PEN World Bookshelf

"... the amount of ground that Seiobo covers and the level of erudition displayed by the author are both formidable. This collage in my head of all the fragments of material acquired while translating it is, by necessity, enticingly eclectic and incomplete. Some of my discoveries were like poignant codas, scattered hints embedded in the real world, perhaps only to be found by a more assiduous reader. But, of course, it’s the translator who should always be the most assiduous reader of all."

Poetry Magazine: Reading List blog

"The volume that keeps coming to mind recently is one I have not yet seen, save in my imagination. I have, though, recently heard a description of it: a tiny sūtra, kept in the Museum of Rare Books in Ulaanbaatar, a manuscript containing The 21 Praises of Green Tārā, but written in such a tiny hand that it can only be read with a microscope. I imagine that this manuscript must entrance the viewer with its evocation of the sub-atomic sacred."

Asian Simulacrum: The Chinese Journeys of László Krasznahorkai

"Indeed, one well-known contemporary poet, Ouyang Jianghe, tells Krasznahorkai that he does not see “museum culture” in a positive light; “Europeans believe that culture is something which they can grasp or touch, because for them culture is contained within objects, or the remnants of those objects."

review of The Game for Real, by Richard Weiner, tr. Benjamin Paloff

"We should perhaps see Weiner’s turn to this deeply archaic form of the Czech language as a kind of mask in and of itself, a mask that, in its “infinitely rooted alienation,” could only consist of the most finicky, pedantic, and dated forms of literary Czech—itself a largely artificial creation of the early nineteenth century."

Ruined Language, Damaged Tongues: on Miklós Radnóti

"Radnóti bore poetic witness to his own murderous age; the poets of the late twentieth-century, in their deeply experimental and rebellious use of language, to the ‘disintegrations’ of the late Kádár era.  Yet these last poems of Radnóti’s, embodiments of physical ruin, snatched from the jaws of ruin, and their literal decomposition in his coat pocket in the mass grave at Abda seem somehow to prefigure the crisis and disintegration of language that his successors were to confront later on — that we all, to some extent, confront today."

Those half-dead sentences: on Miklós Mészöly's Death of an Athlete

"The inscription of a personal subjective chronology onto these impersonal spaces constitutes a major philosophical and moral triumph (even if left unstated) for the female protagonist, even as she discovers at the end of the novel that the regime has no use for her memories and has alredy published its own account."

[ ottilie mulzet ]Hungarian Media on Brexit in the  London Review of Books

"For those who have been been observing Hungary since its post-1989 'regime change,' it’s been a dispiriting narrative, as one media entity after the other has vanished from the newsstands, leaving behind only cyberspace archives, frozen in time."

It Takes A Village To Be Brutal: on Szilárd Borbély's The Dispossessed

"No Hungarian author—whether novelist or social scientist—had ever really written about the persistence, even through Communist social levelling and late-20th-century social advances, of Hungary’s deep and intractable poverty the way that Borbély did, with his laser-sharp observations and uncompromising ethical stance. For the articulate voices of Hungarian society—with its near-incessant nostalgia for past aristocracies and purported lost golden ages—the bitter inequalities prevailing across time, from the serfs sleeping in the barn to the broad levels of socially excluded today, remain a taboo subject."

review of L’étranger intime by Evelyn Dueck on Asymptote

"The recently deceased Hungarian author Imre Kertész comes to mind at this juncture as one of Celan’s contemporaries who most closely adhered in his lifetime—albeit in prose—to Celan’s project as formulated by Lefebvre. Kertész’s language often stuns in its sheer ungainliness, its seemingly deliberate ugliness. In his books of essays Exiled Language, there is a definite unnaturalness to Kertész’s use of Hungarian, which mirrors the unnaturalness of the situation the boy narrator finds himself in (deported to Birkenau-Auschwitz during World War II). The fact that the boy himself continues to find these events to be perfectly “natural” merely reinforces the reader’s unease. The boy’s psychological integration of the unassimilable is mirrored in the language in which he narrates the book, a language comprised of seemingly incompatible registers of Hungarian: his own boyish thoughts and speculations running alongside the bureaucratic language of the regime—a bureaucratese which disappears the objects of its murderous intent well before the deportations begin. This is not unlike some of Celan’s disconcerting compound formulations. In this sense, Kertész was clearly one of Celan’s most assiduous students, truly a practitioner of writing “according to Auschwitz."

Three Deaths: on Szilárd Borbély's verse drama Olaszliszka

"'And now in silence, quietness
the Lord our God is finally present
It is He, no other being,
pure light and illumination,
the angel of death knows his fate
for him only death awaits
the butcher’s killer, it was he
and now he must repent his deed.'

It is in moments like these—similar to Borbély’s evocation of the Sabbath Queen in his poem ‘Zemirot’—that [Borbély] truly shows himself as the legitimate heir to the great Hungarian poet János Pilinszky, unafraid to confront the deepest moral questions of the 20th century and its many killing fields."

"Csókolom" (I kiss your hand): thoughts on this expression

"Of course, as a female, I was not personally affected by the dilemma of when and where to use this phrase. Still, over the years, I somehow involuntarily charted the fortunes of this little greeting, its seeming decline and fall."

The internal and unremitting exile of Sándor Márai: on Marai's diaries

"Every exile needs a place to leave from, and just as importantly, they need a place of exile, or of emigration. Márai’s chosen destination of exile was not any of his physical residences, whether in Turin, Paris, or San Diego (where he evetually ended his own life in 1989; his ashes were, according to his wishes, scattered into the Pacific Ocean), but the Hungarian language itself."

An apocalypse for our time: on László Krasznahorkai's Animalinside

"The prophetic authority of the Witnesses of the End of Time – a category that can be stretched from John of Patmos to Imre Kertész – is, once again, shifted and undermined, the standard categories of ‘self’ and ‘other’ blurred.  An apocalypse of a different order – an apocalypse that cannot even promise an end."