Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hungarian fiction beyond Marai

Tim Wilkinson, the English translator of Imre Kertész, writes on translation and the state of translated Hungarian fiction. Wilkinson notes that only about two Hungarian novels per year are translated in the United States and Britain:

"While the fêting of Sandor Márai is all very well, it would be gratifying to see acknowledgement for more original writers of the recent past, such as Géza Ottlik or Miklós Mészöly."

It would be gratifying, but Hungarian literature and its proponents have done a pretty poor job, so far, of convincing the English-speaking world that Hungarian literature is worth giving a damn about. Apart from the success of Sandor Marai, publishers have recently tried to sell us on the genius of Peter Nadas' Book of Memories and Peter Esterhazy's Celestial Harmonies, two incredibly bloated, mediocre works. Imre Kertész, whom Wilkinson translates, is a fine author, but he writes mostly about the Holocaust, a topic to which entire bookstore shelves are already devoted.

The world can not be expected to care about the literature of an insignificant country of only 10 million people. If Hungarian literature wants to be acknowledged, it has to win readers over through sheer quality. Quality like Marai.
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