Péter Esterházy

Three books by Hungary’s Renowned Author: Celestial Harmonies, Not Art, The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn (down the Danube)

Celestial Harmonies

Translated by Judith Sollosy 2004

Not Art

Translated by Judith Sollosy 2010

Read on for these two truly quirky books but also,

Jump for Encounters with Lela I met at Central Station. This true story (except “Lela” stands in for the lady’s name) may nudge you to look again at Péter Esterházy and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn (down the Danube)

Translated from Hungarian by Richard Aczel 1999

As I too will be on the Danube one day, I look at this coming-of-age tale intermittently again.

I really enjoy Péter Esterházy’s writing. It’s very different to past reading adventures.

I’m still nibbling at his Not Art, another book that caused me to look up contemporary political situations and how they affected the populus. Peter Esterházy’s books are great explorations in fiction filled with allusions and history. Not Art with its “family stories” is “filled with irony, beauty, history, the Magnificent Magyars, father, grandmother, aunt, uncle, mother, life and death.” (Quote from the back of my copy.) Footnotes referencing the poet Sándor Petōfi, composer Béla Bartók and even the author’s own work, such as on page 156:  * “It is deucedly difficult to dive for pearls when you don’t know the truth” is a playful reference to the much-quoted first sentence of Péter Esterházy’s novel Celestial Harmonies: “It is deucedly difficult to tell a lie when you don’t know the truth,” add an interesting dimension to the work. Self-promotion? Why not?!  Clever. Outrageous. Edgy! The first footnote naturally, not only is on page 1 but also references our author: * A take on the first sentence of Esterházy’s novel Helping Verbs of the Heart (A szív segédigéi, 1985), “In the name of the Father and the Son…” Some people so I read somewhere, believe Not Art is autobiographical. Not for one moment did I! (hee-hee-heee!) Not Art centres on a son’s relationship to his mother who’s defining communication with the world is in the language of football. The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn (down the Danube) – a “road trip” work though the tale romps on the river from the Black Forest down to the Black Sea (And, hee-hee-heee, soon I hope, I’ll be going up the Danube from the Black Sea to as far as Budapest where Péter Esterházy was born, if all goes well – paid-up coupons still flutter from when the current pandemic put a stop to travel last year) sees a professional traveller who is commissioned to undertake a voyage of discovery and prepare a travelogue about the Danube. His reports are terse, surreal telegrams and accompanying him is his distantly-related nephew. The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn (down the Danube) is filled with allusion, fantasy, history and autobiography. Without having first read its back cover Celestial Harmonies, gave me a sneaking feeling author and character also merged, ebbed, flowed to some alternate space feeding reader hunger for more intimate involvement. Within twenty pages I couldn’t resist taking in the back cover: Péter Esterházy tells the epic story of his own family’s rise and fall, a story that explores the myth of the patriarch, mirrors the turmoil of Hungarian history, and slowly reveals the difficult truths of family and love … the family lore is rich, poignant, entertaining and awe-inspiring. I thoroughly enjoyed / am enjoying again these three inventive reads. Péter Esterházy’s style is unique and his humour sophisticated. Celestial Harmonies is a big book: 846 pages, Not Art a mere 225 pages. The Glance of Countess Hahn-Hahn (down the Danube) comes in at 246. Péter Esterházy (1950-2016) was a member of one of Europe’s most prominent aristocratic families. Born in Budapest he was considered a leading figure of 20th century Hungarian literature and his books are widely considered significant contributions to postwar literature. Keep safe wherever you are dear readers.
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