selected reviews
The Bone Fire, by György Dragomán [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021]
New York Times Globetrotting Pick
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
An image of the cover of The Bone Fire."And The Bone Fire has certainly won acclaim since its original publication in 2014 — it was a finalist for major prizes in France and Italy — before landing in the capable hands of Ottilie Mulzet, the translator who has notably brought us the works of Laszlo Krasznahorkai. The timing is perfect: The novel reaches an American audience at a moment when we’re feeling not only the seismic shifts of historical change, and the hard reckoning after a strongman’s fall, but also the ways magical thinking, conspiracy and rumor seep through the cracks during times of turmoil.

Whether this novel will find the same success in the United States that it has found elsewhere depends perhaps on the extent to which American readers will surrender themselves, as Emma has, to the whims of a skilled but inscrutable abductor. Like the mysterious grandmother, Dragoman seems to have our best interests at heart. This is a story, after all, in which dreams and phantasms are kinder and more sensical than the random brutality of the concrete world. To that end, his telling is not just magic, but enchantment."—Rebecca Makkai in The New York Times Book Review
"The latest novel from György Dragomán is a wild, disorientating and deeply disturbing read, translated by Ottilie Mulzet with a supple and penetrating precision...Throughout the novel, it feels as if there are simply too many casualties, too much pain and death, and time and again we risk being pulled into the politics of despair. But [Dragomán's] muscular prose style, his fantastical cast of characters, and his vivid, dream-like imagery – reminiscent of Bulgakov in The Master and Margarita – is nonetheless deeply exhilarating, full of daring, packed with energy and life. And this very vivacity is where the hope lies. Like Grandmother – snatched over and over from the jaws of death and destruction, and dragged back into a broken and chaotic world, to begin again - we must all, suggests the writer, simply learn to live. For ourselves, and for each other. For a better tomorrow. "—Barney Bardsley, HLO"A fairy tale, a coming-of-age story, a post-Soviet chiller, a masterpiece. This book was exactly what I needed. I'm so damn glad and grateful to have read it."—Julia Phillips, Goodreads"Hungarian author Dragomán employs elements of magical realism to literalize the power inherent in superstition and ritual. Contrasting narrative styles illustrate the strikingly different manners in which the two characters process their respective traumas... A poignant coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of regime change."—Kirkus Reviews"[A] striking mix of magical elements and post-Communist setting... Fans of Gabriel García Márquez may want to have a look."—Publishers Weekly
Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming, by László Krasznahorkai [New Directions, 2019]
♦ winner of the National Book Award for Translated Literature, 2019
A screenshot of the cover of Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming"While the novel energetically pursues Krasznahorkai’s habitual themes – disorder, spiritual drought, the impossibility of meaning in the absence of God – it does so in a tone that glitters with comic detail ... in Ottilie Mulzet’s tirelessly virtuosic translation."—Jane Shilling in the New Stateman"Twinkling with dark wit, his dizzyingly torrential sentences (heroically translated by Ottilie Mulzet) forever bait us with the promise of resolution.."—Anthony Cummins in the Guardian"This vortex of a novel compares neatly with Dostoevsky and shows Krasznahorkai at the absolute summit of his decades-long project." —Publisher's Weekly"Relentlessly ­hilarious and shimmeringly dark"—Forrest Gander"It has a madness and monomania that compel."—Sukhdev Sandhu in the Guardian"Despite, or maybe because of, the depth of insight Krasznahorkai brings to this exceptional and profound novel, intricately translated by Ottilie Mulzet, there are moments of great humour too."—Declan O’Driscoll in the Irish Times"With an immense cast and wide-ranging erudition, this novel, the culmination of a Hungarian master’s career, offers a sweeping view of a contemporary moment that seems deprived of meaning."—The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted""Baron Wenkcheim’s Homecoming is a fitting capstone to Krasznahorkai’s tetralogy, one of the supreme achievements of contemporary literature."—Dustin Illingworth in The Paris Review"The emotional and psychological realizations Krasznahorkai can evoke are singular and breathtaking."—Seth L. Riley in The Millions"Despite Krasznahorkai’s reputation as a writer of dense and exhausting fictions predisposed to apocalyptic ruminations delivered in a frequently abstruse and roundabout fashion, he is also regularly, and quite profoundly, funny ... which, it should be said at the outset, is a unique, frustrating and altogether remarkable achievement."—Adam Rivett in The Monthly"Paradox is at the heart of Krasznahorkai: even as his books seem to affirm meaninglessness, the music of those long, spiraling sentences reflects a great care. Equally, it’s an act of will and of care to read a novel like Wenckheim, the opposite of consuming 'content.' Krasznahorkai’s novels are not something that you halfheartedly acquiesce to after thirty minutes of Netflix scrolling. Content is the killing of time; literature like Krasznahorkai’s helps confront the way meaning and value keep leaking out of that time.."—David Schurman Wallace in The Baffler
Dostoevsky Reads Hegels and Bursts into Tears, by László Földényi [Yale University Press, 2020]
World Literature Today Notable Translation of 2020
A screenshot of the cover of Dostoevsky Reads Hegel in Sibiria and Bursts into Tears"Perceptive meditations on humanity’s need for spiritual nourishment."—Kirkus Reviews“[A] fierce, provoking collection . . . expertly translated by Ottilie Mulzet . . .  [Földényi] proves himself a brilliant interpreter of the dark underside of Enlightenment ambition.”—James Wood in The New Yorker“It is precisely Földényi’s approachable style, as well as Ottilie Mulzet’s impeccable translation, that makes this collection easily accessible to scholars and casual readers alike.”—Barbara Halla in Asymptote
Final Matters: Selected Poems, 2004-2010, by Szilárd Borbély [Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation, Princeton University Press, 2019]
♦ shortlisted for the PEN America Poetry in Translation Award 2019
The cover of the book"The late Hungarian poet Szilárd Borbély’s collection Final Matters is undoubtedly the strangest, most visionary book of verse I’ve read this year."—Robyn Creswell, Words without Borders/The Best Translated Books You Missed in 2019"Translated by Ottilie Mulzet with a rare lyricism and lucidity ... A profoundly disquieting work, which grows stranger and richer with each reading. These poems offer no answers, yet they are a revelation." —Chris Littlewood in the Times Literary Supplement"... Mulzet has undoubtedly brought readers a great gift by bringing these multi-layered poems into English... This is complex, harrowing, and often sublime poetry — a cry against forgetting that deserves to be fully heard." —Aviya Kushner in The Forward"Translated faithfully and beautifully by Ottilie Mulzet... the poetry of Final Matters is a tremendous achievement, and shows that Borbély should be considered not just among the great writers of post-Soviet Europe, but also of contemporary Judaism." —Daniel Kraft in Jewish Currents"Borbély writes mystical lyrics, polytheistic parables and Hasidic sequences too powerful to forget. Like Japan’s wondrous Motoyuki Shibata, ­Ottilie Mulzet has become a translator with a following. I’m one of those committed to reading anything she takes up." — Forrest Gander"Extraordinary, masterful, and tragic. . . . Ottilie Mulzet is one of the very finest [Hungarian translators]. . . . [Final Matters] as a whole partakes of the darkest and truest apprehensions of humanity. That is its remarkable power, a power that runs through the translations, the work of translation devoting itself to something of great importance and value. Nothing in either contemporary Hungarian or contemporary English compares with it." — George Szirtes, Translation and Literature"In these poems, faith often hangs by a very thin thread, and in the harsh light of suffering and affliction, there are times when it can hardly be seen at all, when it is almost invisible…  But it is there.   Final Matters is, without doubt, deeply provocative, but it is so in order to shift the debate , to challenge, to ask the difficult questions of any complacent theology or moral philosophy." —Tony Flynn, the High Window"Translated by Mulzet into elegant and tonally astute English ... the poems eventually repudiate all such answers, and it is in this repudiation that the collection’s agonized ingenuity lies." —Carla Baricz in the Los Angeles Review of Books"In Borbély’s case, through a kind of craft that is undeniably in a world of its own, translator Ottilie Mulzet has provided an amazing Hungarian poet with a voice in English, opening a door to a readership that might otherwise never have found out the potency of his words." —Bruce Arlen Wasserman in the New York Journal of Books"One feels the poems are the brilliantly wrought salvages of some perilous descent into the human soul and its primordial encounter with the agonizing mystery of its being ... one can only be grateful for these poems of Szilárd Borbély as they exist now in English in the afterlife of Ottilie Mulzet’s vivid translations." —Daniel Tobin in Literary Matters"Yet [Borbély's] language is calm, unadorned, and his words are shared in such a graceful and understated way, that, despite the melancholy of the writer himself, the reader is left feeling strangely comforted, less alone. This is a wise and generous gift ... Ottilie Mulzet has translated the poems throughout this volume with meticulous clarity and a rare luminosity. Like the poet himself, she uses her gift for language with an elegant restraint which, rather than demonstrating her own virtuosity, simply aims to serve the work itself. " —Barney Bardsley on HLO
Seiobo There Below, by László Krasznahorkai [New Directions, 2013]
♦ winner of the Best Translated Book Award 2014
A screenshot of the cover of Seiobo There Below"Seiobo There Below is a book that, for the reader of Ottilie Mulzet’s exquisite translation, enacts a kind of jump cut."—Hari Kunzru in The Guardian"Seiobo There Below is a devastatingly thoughtful, austere and contemplative book, written with a deep knowledge of artistic technique and human affairs that is rare among novelists."—Tim Martin in The Telegraph"The breadth of material these stories cover is breathtaking, but Krasznahorkai wears his erudition lightly ... (Ottilie Mulzet, the very capable translator, must have had her hands full.)."—Jason Farago, NPR "A fabulous masterwork guaranteed to set the nerves tingling."—Eileen Battersby in the Irish Times"A thoroughly satisfying artistic evolution, it shows the author broadening his core obsession with humankind’s lurches between civilization and anarchy, while expanding to encompass new locations and time periods (all rendered spectacularly in Ottilie Mulzet’s pitch-perfect English translation)."—Veronica Esposito in the Washington Post"Seiobo There Below is a wonderful book, dazzling in its range of ideas and settings, fascinating stories told in dense, lengthy, multi-page sentences which drag the reader along, breathless and dizzying at the same time."—Tony's Reading List"We’ve only just begun reading this collection, and already László Krasznahorkai’s haunting prose has submerged us in the great panta rhei of life—Heraclitus’s aphorism that everything flows in a state of continuous change."—Andrea Scrima in 3 Quarks Daily
The World Goes On, by László Krasznahorkai [trans. with George Szirtes and John Batki, New Directions, 2017]
♦ shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, 2018
A screenshot of the cover of The World Goes On"With impressive subtlety, the translations recreate the playful irony that undercuts the incessant anguish in each story."—Idra Novey in The New York Times Book Review"This collection – a masterpiece of invention, utterly different from everything else – is hugely unsettling and affecting; to meet Krasznahorkai’s characters, to read his breathless, twisting sentences, is to feel altered.."—Claire Kohda Hazelton in The Guardian"Over twenty-one stories in The World Goes On, the author shifts artfully between registers; the book is similar in concept and composition to Seiobo There Below, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, who again proves to be a skilled conduit, this time for five of the tales in the collection."—Eileen Battersby in the Times Literary Supplement"Hidden within these dense thickets of prose are sublime, often uncanny visions."—Nathaniel Rich in The Atlantic"It is proof of the translators’ skill that Krasznahorkai’s sentences work as well as they do. They aren’t just plausible grammatically — they propel the narrative and give the prose its sense."—Ellen Elias-Bursać in The Arts Fuse"Every story here is enrapturing."—Paddy Kehoe, RTE"One doesn’t so much read The World Goes On as experience its almost hallucinatory narratives."—Andrew Martino, World Literature Today"This book breaks all conventions and tests the very limits of language, resulting in a transcendent, astounding experience.."—Publishers Weekly"From the author’s 'uncontrollable impulse to look upon the very axis of the world' emerges a work that shows, undiminished, the complexity of existence—as well as its 'sad and temporarily self-evident goal: oblivion'."—The New Yorker, 'Briefly Noted'
The Dispossessed, by Szilárd Borbély [HarperCollins, 2016]
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
The cover of the novel The Dispossessed, by Szilárd Borbély. Cover shows an isolated house on a plain, title and author name."The richness, inventiveness, the sheer graphic quality of the language, beautifully rendered by the translator Ottilie Mulzet, takes the fierce and often obscene terms of the village and offers them to us as a form of luminosity. It’s not a trick. It’s not fake religiosity. It is, and we accept it as, life." —George Szirtes in The New York Times Book Review"Borbély, an acclaimed poet and writer in his native Hungary, once promised his father that he would never write about his dismal childhood. His father died in 2006. In 2013, Borbély published a brilliant, and biting, depiction of his destitute boyhood in a remote Hungarian village. The novel was highly acclaimed, and now, in his debut in English translation, Borbély’s work promises to be a major gift to English readers. His is a massive talent, with a dark taste for the absurd placing him squarely in the company of Gogol, Kafka, and, more recently, Bohumil Hrabal and the filmmaker Emir Kusturica... In Mulzet’s magnificent translation, Borbély’s prose is caustic and lucent, tart and somehow burnished. He writes in short, staccato phrases that seem bitten off, chewed at the end with an acerbic twist... Borbély died in 2014, but there is a back catalog of poems, essays, and stories yet to appear in English. Here’s hoping Mulzet brings us more before too much time passes. An exquisite addition to any library of the dark, the bleak, and the absurd, Borbély’s inauguration into English is a magnificent one." —Kirkus Reviews"This immensely powerful portrait of poverty is at once a window into an often obscured history, and a timeless testament to the struggle of those in need." —Publishers Weekly"The beautiful, by means of artistic expression, is an escape from worry, however brief its duration.This is one of the most powerful themes in The Dispossessed, and perhaps the one that Borbély wished to resonate above all others. The poor, though largely neglected by the ruling body of their society, are not incapable of an appreciation of, and need for, the beautiful. Borbély encourages us to scrutinize their failures as human beings, but also subtly proposes that many of these lives, at some level of consciousness, long for a more dignified existence." —Tyler Langendorfer in Music and Literature"A trial and a testament, The Dispossessed is also a filial portrait of love and perseverance in the midst of despond, a candlelight faithfully tended against the infinite darkness without." —Kaija Straumanis at Three Percent"This novel, by a celebrated Hungarian poet who committed suicide in 2014, at the age of fifty, depicts the world of his childhood: a poor,remote village near the Romanian border, where inflexible Communist diktats meet the ancient brutalities of peasant life... daily chatter contains echoes of the past: forced assimilation of Romanians, the Holocaust. The narrator, a young boy whose family is shunned—it was once wealthy and is suspected of being Jewish—endures beatings, hunger, and taunts with the fatalism of someone who has never known anything else." —The New Yorker, 'Briefly Noted'"Well-known poet Borbely uses his lyrical talent to illuminate the suffering and deep seated poverty in a tiny Hungarian village in the 1960s, a time when politics and communism in the region changed difficult lives to impossible. The unnamed child narrator,whose drunken father is of Jewish descent and whose family is officially Greek Catholic (another unpopular religion in a Calvinist village), describes his life as a fearful outcast who, with his sister, does most of the chores and spends inordinate amounts of time keeping his mother from jumping into the well. The narrator doesn’t shy away from the peasants’ coarse humor, sexual aberrations, and cruelty to animals, nor the filth and excrement that surround them and serve as metaphors for their lives. While the short declarative sentences may seem somewhat repetitious, every page is laden with significance, and though some readers may not enjoy the education Borbely gives them, most will find much to ponder in this moving literary novel that compares favorably to both Elie Wiesel’s Night (1960) and Philip Hensher’s Scenes from Early Life (2013) for their disturbingly clear descriptions and autobiographical nature. Borbely died in 2014." —Jen Baker, Booklist 10/15/2016, Vol. 113 Issue 4, p. 28.
Berlin-Hamlet, by Szilárd Borbély [NYRB Poets, 2016]
♦ shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, 2017
♦ shortlisted for the ALTA National Translation Award, 2017
Cover of the books of poems Berlin-Hamlet, by Szilárd Borbély"Part confession, part correspondence, part phantasmagorical travelogue through scenes of collective cultural trauma, Borbély’s poetry is haunting, melancholic, and tender ... Borbély draws readers through his poems in an unwavering trajectory, yet when we reach the other side, we realize that it was merely a phantom hand guiding us, and we miss it."—Three Percent, "Why This Book Should Win""A work of haunting and haunted sophistication, elegantly translated by Ottilie Mulzet."—recommended by Rosanna Warren, Editor's Shelf, Ploughshares, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Winter 2017-2018)
The Book of Mordechai and Lazarus, by Gábor Schein [trans. with Adam Z. Levy; Seagull Books, 2017]
A screenshot of the cover of Lazarus and The Book of Mordechai"Lazarus takes the form of a son writ­ing about his father in express dis­obe­di­ence to the latter’s wish­es — an act of love tinged with vio­lence." —Ari R. Hoffmann, The Jewish Book Council"The late twentieth century has cast a long shadow and, as the generation who lived through it are reaching old age and leaving us to reckon with a world where the far right are again up to no good – particularly but not solely in Hungary – thoughtful reflections such as The Book of Mordechai and Lazarus are needed more than ever." —J. C. Greenway, Ten Million Hardbacks
Animalinside, by László Krasznahorkai [New Directions, 2010]
Screenshot of the cover of Animalinside"There is an almost Biblical resonance of utter destruction and an improbable, fervid humor in the prose as the beast speaks directly to us, its voice moving between trapped panic, cunning hunger, and a vicious savagery... The flow and cadence of these sentences are testimony to Mulzet’s excellence as a translator."—Ellen Elias-Bursac in The Arts Fuse"Resembling, in form, Beckett’s “Texts for Nothing,” Krasznahorkai’s words often seem to be a commentary on late Beckett; there is a steady emphasis on nothingness, entrapment, going on and being unable to go on. These beautiful fragments have the packed intensity of Krasznahorkai’s longer fiction, particularly its control of repetition and echo."—James Wood in The New Yorker"Animalinside is a cultural event in itself ... Tóibín’s engagement with Krasznahorkai’s sentence-making is the highest possible praise for Ottilie Mulzet’s translation, praise it mightily deserves."—Jean Harris, Words without Borders"The prints are lush and crisp, the translation (this time by Ottilie Mulzet) deftly elegant... I can imagine no more appropriate god for the late-capitalist, polar-ice-caps-melting, borderless-war-and-prison-camp world that we increasingly inhabit."—Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation"Animalinside is yet another text to give entropy its eternal due."—Ross Barkan, The L Magazine
Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens, by László Krasznahorkai [Seagull Books, 2016]
Screenshot of the cover of Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens"Mulzet's translation of Krasznahorkai's conversations with people who do not speak English is equally awesome, as in the book they are translated to Stein by his interpreter to write in Hungarian. That this is not all an incomprehensible jumble is a feat of incredible transmission. As Stein says, at one point, "He doesn't know how to explain how this is possible, but he has understood, and he understands, every single word." In its way, it resolves Stein's insoluble problem at the Buddhist temple about the Buddha's lost words: the translations—that is the original."—Lucas Klein in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal"Mulzet's translation of Krasznahorkai's conversations with people who do not speak English is equally awesome, as in the book they are translated to Stein by his interpreter to write in Hungarian. That this is not all an incomprehensible jumble is a feat of incredible transmission. As Stein says, at one point, "He doesn't know how to explain how this is possible, but he has understood, and he understands, every single word." In its way, it resolves Stein's insoluble problem at the Buddhist temple about the Buddha's lost words: the translations—that is the original."—Kirkus Reviews"[An] engaging first-hand examination of culture and tradition (and loss thereof) in modern China."—Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review"If you read this expecting answers, you’ll be disappointed too, yet I doubt anyone turns to Krasznahorkai for a plot.  While Destruction and Sorrow… doesn’t cohere quite as well as his novels (mainly owing to the slight clash in style between the interview sections and Stein’s search for perfection), it’s still a beautiful read at times, with Ottilie Mulzet capturing the dizzying style of Satantango and Seiobo There Below, particularly in the opening mountain section, the long, looping sentences echoing the endless steps awaiting the fascinated poet (and his cold, wet and miserable sidekick…)." —Tony's Reading List"Why keep going back? There are two answers. One is that Krasznahorkai, like Thomas Bernhard before him, feels the obligation to scathe, and modern China gives him the opportunity to scathe much of the time masterfully, often in those characteristic long, strong sentences that curl back on themselves to repeat the indictment or indignation with hammering force. And of course China here is only the Babylon of the global dominion that supplies our material needs while divesting us of all that matters."—Paul Griffiths, Music and Literature"If Krasznahorkai is deeply critical of China’s economic modernization at the cost of its classica ltradition, and the relentlessness of global capitalism more generally, he also paints an ironic picture of Stein’s spiritual odyssey. Stein is almost an epistemological figure through which Krasznahorkai explores where the cultural limits to understanding may lie and thus he formulates a not very pronounced, yet still palpable, critique of what may be called spiritual tourism."—Lilla Balint, Slavic and East European Journal"Krasznahorkai’s relentless prose clicks familiarly with this search for satori (a Buddhist term for sudden enlightenment): Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens reads almost like the wiser, ornery counterpart to a Jack Kerouac novel. Although more controlled that the beatnik stream-of-thought, Krasznahorkai’s search for the essence of tradition by way of meandering, exploratory sentences is surprisingly recognizable, and a stylistic humbling that makes this riveting collection all the more palatable." —Jeff Alford, RunSpotRun"Stein is only too aware that he is at odds with the times, and that perhaps he is beyond understanding modern China. “I have committed a huge error,” he admits, “for I have continued to believe that even today, China is still that ancient empire.” Such is the sorrow of the title of this book, a long lament for the final ancient civilization of world history. We are called upon to wonder: is there anywhere an individual can experience the condition of perfect tranquility? Or is it true, as Stein is forced to conclude, that modernity 'has no place whatsoever for the highly accomplished, highly refined individual'?"—Michael Lapointe in the Los Angeles Review of Books"This enthralling hell is everywhere in Krasznahorkai’s work, but becomes most visibly real in the twenty-first century China described in Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens, a book-length investigation that represents a different kind of transfiguration for an author best known in the Anglophone world for his fiction."—Jeffrey Zuckerman in The New Republic"A quest to discover the remaining artifacts and present-day incarnations of classical Chinese culture takes Man Booker International–winner Krasznahorkai (Seiobo There Below) on an illuminating, melancholy journey through contemporary China in this occasionally frustrating yet often dazzling travel memoir."—Publishers Weekly