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.

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.

Book Encounters – Lela and Péter Esterházy

Lela seemed paranoiac, as if a Party-State black Volga would edge down the street, pull-in close, from its curtained interior a chill-complexioned thug make for…

Romancing with Lela, Péter Esterházy and Fyodor Dostoevsky at Central Station
Encounters with Lela
p42 Lela Celestial H Not Art 300       

In the concourse of Central Station I met a woman from Roumania. Outside rain poured heavily. Extremely so. It was the season for that. We had coffee together confident within an hour the storm would be passed. I began to suspect Lela’s internal ones never would.

When people of a certain race pressed in, munching hamburgers, gulping coffee, licking ice-creams and yabbering loudly, she turned her back to them, huddled closer to me. There was good reason, they coughed and spluttered without using a tissue or handkerchief to cover their sprayings. That was eighteen months ago. Now it’s mandatory to wear a mask in public places and particular spaces. Were these people never taught as children, as we were, to cough or sneeze into a handkerchief (which Mother boiled up in a copper with great quantities of salt, much rinsing then hanging up in the sun to dry) or use a disposable cloth which was burnt? Wash hands after… you know what! and before handling food?

But it was more than that. Lela warily scanned beyond the young people, her eyes seeking out darkest nooks and crannies and sifting amongst bodies pouring off the escalators.

And I suspected Lela was not her true name.

Her last name sounded Hungarian but she muttered it so softly I could not catch it. And it was so foreign to my ears and long, I would not have remembered it. She would not repeat it, nor would she write it when we exchanged telephone numbers.

We arranged to meet a month later closer to our homes – we’d both travelled far, her to go to the cathedral, me for a Sunday lecture up-river at the university.

Four weeks passed with intermittent telephone calls and definite arrangements. We met at a club with a large dining hall and several small casual-eating areas comfortably appointed with well-padded chairs and lounges ninety minutes from our respective homes. A half-way mark.

My new friend was in a beautifully embroidered white sunfrock. Utterly unlike anything I had seen before. I wore black jeans and jacket with a bright scarf draped about my neck. Despite her smiles and boisterous greeting, she seemed paranoiac, a trait I had begun to suspect when we first met… as if a Party-State black Volga would edge down the street, rein-in close, from its curtained interior a chill-complexioned thug make for her.

Despite her long drive she would not eat, nor take coffee. I said it was my treat but still she refused and we both drank water only. We shifted to a more intimate booth where she pulled a book from her basket and clutched it close to her chest.

Before allowing me to look at it, she glanced around. Glanced? No, she scrutinised the area in a practiced way though as covertly as she could.

Warily, she asked me again why was I going to Roumania. Why Transylvania. What was my purpose?

As if in a clandestine meeting in a cloak-and-dagger novel, she bade me draw my chair closer. She put the book on the table (it was sizeable) along with another, opened the first at a series of pictures. Old photographs. Great forests and mountains. Fairy-tale castles and carriages. Men, elegantly attired.

‘That is my grandfather,’ she said. ‘He is now dead. They got him. Some of us escaped. I returned last year when my grandmother was dying. Decades had passed. I missed her by a day. All our jewellery is gone. Stolen. And our estates.’

As a group of people came close, she darted furtive glances, closed the book, hid it in her basket. I never saw it again. Nor the other titled Once Upon a Transylvania.

I’m glad I’d been reading Péter Esterházy’s Celestial Harmonies. I had a handle on her behaviour. That fear that never seems to leave her. The old families of the East European Bloc when the big changes came, could not even trust one another. I’d seen it in the eyes of friends of my family when I was young. And our neighbours who were Polish. I remember a day when census officials were calling door-to-door. Mrs K had spotted them, leapt the fence, rushed up our twenty back stairs calling to my mother, ‘Quick, quick, police! They’re coming. Hurry! Come! Bring children. Quick! Must hide!’

I’m still reading Celestial Harmonies, I’m a slow reader, appreciating every nuance, every word and, it’s a big book at 841 pages (and admittedly I do break to take in other books).

Judith Sollosy translated Celestial Harmonies from Péter Esterházy’s Hungarian. She said, ‘Panic, too, can be a formative part of the translation process, an unwelcome source of inspiration … For Esterházy, style and content are inseparable, and the medium is the message … I had to bend a close ear to the text in order to distinguish the Esterházy from the pseudo- Esterházy … As his translator, I wanted to get inside Péter Esterházy’s head.’

And I’m reading Péter Esterházy’s Not Art.

Both books make one consider what else a novel can be. Just as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Demons does (or, The Possessed as Constance Garnett in 1913 translated).

All three made me look up histories of Russia, Roumania and round-abouts.

Re-aligning my understanding of the politics of the time, how those came about and ways of life beyond those novels gave me deep insight to the characters and indeed the authors (both men were genius writers), and of course Lela.

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Site Updates 2021 2020

Direct-link to New Stuff or Updated earlier Posts and Pages – Hope you like ’em!


Dear Visitors, your Likes and Comments lighten my world and can trigger conversation. Leap to a piece to leave a Comment or Like of its own 🙂 Easy-peasy!

And now it’s Christmas! Season’s Greetings to you all and let’s hope for a fabulous 2022. Site Updates turn a page.

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2021 November 28:

2021 November 21:

2021 November 17: Quickie Snacks (New) includes Walnuts, Medjool Dates, Cumin infused cheese and Feta and my take on Tzatziki. On my Chess Day, we all bring a contribution for Morning Tea. Recipes Updated with listing the new four with Buttons. And, tomorrow’s tomorrow, Me & Books tweaked.

2021 November 02: Rain (New) A poem as rain fell and a baby huddled on a frond inches from the sodden ground. “The Manuscript” Tattlings (Updated)

2021 October late: Me & Books (Updated), Asemic Writing in Wet Sands (New), Eclectic Readings from My Stash (which is under construction but does have some Button-Jumps to several authors including Peter Esterhazy (New), Anstey Harris, Di Morrissey, Kayte Nunn, Jodi Picoult. And, perhaps sussed, how Smart-Phone users and non-WordPress visitors can become a Follower with ease: Go to page In Wet Sands – Ebbs and Flows and scroll down to the pink form and you should be able to “sign in” through your familiar platform 🙂 Welcome! Give it a whirl!

2021 October 15 Tech Prob: Follow from Phone not triggering (New) despite 2 hours of effort! It does seem to work if you are a WordPress Site holder.

2021 October 14 Eclectic Readings from My Stash  (New) Four titles so far commented upon – Anstey Harris, Bertrand Russell, Geraldine Brooks, Di Morrissey

2021 October 12 In Wet Sands – Ebbs and Flows   (New) and herewith update on Follow button problem: now it may be working properly 🙂

2021 October 11 Asemic Writing   Asemic writing written by trees, the wind, seaweed on the sand, termites and me. (New) Thanks bluebrightly for the word! I’d not known my “writing” and squiggles in my art had a name 🙂  And Thanks to The Metropolitan Museum of Art – https://www.metmuseum.org  for the five pics of cuneiform writing 🙂

2021 October 10 Tech Prob: Follow Button not triggering (New because several people have not had their efforts to Follow trigger. I’m trying to suss out what I’ve done wrong to the site. Maybe you can help?);  My Genre (Updated); And coming soon, Asemic Writing. My manuscript editing is up to Deeds of Men.

2021 September 27  My Genre (Update with pics and jump for the fabulous bookstore in Romania – at their site, scroll down for heaps of pics of the restored building). Now I’m off for more editing of my manuscript – I’m honing in on Chapter 23 Guilt and Honour.

p34 8 bks of p38

2021 September 26  Today, tidying, compacting, fixing, updating. Some menu items now leap to sub-menus to give you better paths like [Poetics] and [Book Hop]. [Brain Expanding] zaps to the new Expanding Our Brains Menu which gives links thus (but listed tidily):   Expanding Our Brains  – bright fruit, leafy greens, walk and Aristophanes   Expanding Our Brains ii – Meta-Tags and the Ocean   Expanding Our Brains iii Frogs  – Aristophanes Frogs Βάτραχοι. Don’t you just love him? – Brain Food   Expanding Our Brains iv Ken  – a puzzle   Jumping with Hoops – oh those Meta-Tags and Keywords – learning computer stuff. Now I’m off for a much-needed cuppa and shelter from the wind that’s shaking the door.

2021 September 24  Books 21+ (new) **  Book Encounters tickled.


2021 September 18  Poetics …. now I’m off to tend garden, body and that ms!

2021 September 17  Book Encounters  **  Fennel   A quick easy recipe. Great either hot or cold.

2021 September 14  I’m back! **  “The Manuscript” Tattlings  **  Beta-Readers  **  AGM QUESTIONS – Can you help?

2020 May 01 Page (child of Art Endeavours): Seas to Red Centre 19plusOne : Painting Explorations From the Sea to the Red Centre amongst Trees and Creatures. Turtles, Fish, Crabs, Forests, Plains, Mountains, skeletons and saints, tigers and snake.

2020 April 07 Post: My Genre

2020 March 31 Post for My Garden: Golden Orb-Weaver & Jumping Spider and,  Some Books I’ve Read This Year 2020 up to March 31  which includes books currently I’m reading.

2020 March 08 New Page: Some Books I’ve Read This Year 2020

2020 February 25 Updated: Words and Phrases regarding BC/AD vs BCE/CE, retaining historically used characters BC / AD which now can be interpreted:  Backwards Counting / Advancing Date means databases remain unscathed.

books selection

2020 February 23 New Page Eclectic Collection: Books, Authors, Words & Phrases which is parent of:


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