Books Set in Hungary

Next month I’m off to Budapest for a weekend break. Very excited!

Budapest - River View

Image courtesy of

I’ve already picked up a copy of Imre Kerteszis Nobel Prize-winning Fateless, but was interested in what other Hungarian Literature (or at least books set in Hungary) were out there. A Google search didn’t actually turn up very much, so I turned to the bookish brains on Twitter to help me out, and wow what a great response I got!

Life Is A Dream, Gyula Krudy

Life is a Dream

Life is a Dream (1931) is Gyula Krudy’s magical collection of ten short stories. Creating a world where editors shoot themselves after a hard day’s brunching, men attend duels incognito and lovers fall out over salad dressing, Life is a Dream is a comic, nostalgic, romantic and erotic glimpse into the Hungary of the early twentieth century. Focussing on the poor and dispossessed, these tales of love, food, death and sex are ironic and wise about the human condition and the futility of life, and display fully Krudy’s wit and mastery of the form.

My Happy Days In Hell, Gyorgy Faludy

My Happy Days in HellMy Happy Days in Hell (1962) is Gyorgy Faludy’s grimly beautiful autobiography of his battle to survive tyranny and oppression. Fleeing Hungary in 1938 as the German army approaches, acclaimed poet Faludy journeys to Paris, where he finds a lover but merely a cursory asylum. When the French capitulate to the Nazis, Faludy travels to North Africa, then on to America, where he volunteers for military service. Missing his homeland and determined to do the right thing, he returns – only to be imprisoned, tortured, and slowly starved, eventually becoming one of only twenty-one survivors of his camp.

Both of the above found via Iris on books who directed me to these translated European Penguin Modern Classics.

Then Stu from Winstonsdad’s Blog suggested;

Skylark, by Dezso Kosztolanyi

SkylarkIt is 1900, give or take a few years. The Vajkays-call them Mother and Father-live in Sárszeg, a dead-end burg in the provincial heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Father retired some years ago to devote his days to genealogical research and quaint questions of heraldry. Mother keeps house. Both are utterly enthralled with their daughter, Skylark. Unintelligent, unimaginative, unattractive, and unmarried, Skylark cooks and sews for her parents and anchors the unremitting tedium of their lives. Now Skylark is going away, for only a week it’s true, but a week that yawns endlessly for her parents. What will they do? Before they know it, they are eating at restaurants, reconnecting with old friends, attending the theater. And this just a prelude to Father’s night out at the Panther Club, about which the less said the better. Drunk, in the light of dawn, Father surprises himself and Mother with his true, buried, unspeakable feelings about Skylark. Then, Skylark is back. Is there a world elsewhere, beyond life’s daily monotonous grind and creeping disappointment? Not only for Mother and Father, but for Skylark, too? This question is unanswerable, but the crystalline prose, perfect comic timing, and profound human sympathy that make Dezso Kosztolányi one of the masters of European literature conjure up a tantalizing beauty that lies on the far side of the irredeemably ordinary. To that extent, Skylark is nothing less than a magical book.

Embers, by Sandor Marai (suggested both by Stu and Sakura from Chasing Bawa)

In Sándor Márai’s Embers, two old men, once the best of friends, meet after a 41-year break in their relationship. They dine together, taking the same places at the table that they had assumed on the last meal they shared, then sit beside each other in front of a dying fire, one of them near-silent, the other one, his host, slowly and deliberately tracing the course of their dead friendship. This sensitive, long-considered elaboration of one man’s lifelong grievance is as gripping as any adventure story, and explains why Maáai’s forgotten 1942 masterpiece is being compared with the work of Thomas Mann.

Carnelian Valley tweeted;

The Ninth Circle, by Alex Bell

A man comes round on the floor of a shabby flat in the middle of Budapest. His head is glued to the floorboards with his own blood. There’s a fortune in cash on the kitchen table. And he has no idea where, or who, he is. He can do extraordinary things – speak any number of languages fluently, go three days without food or sleep, and fight with extraordinary prowess. But without a name, without a past, he’s isolated from the rest of the world; a stranger to everyone, including himself – until a chance encounter with a young scholar leads to his first friendship, and his first hint that someone out there knows more about him than he does. Someone is sending him clues about his past. Photographs hidden in books and crates of wine. Cryptic clues pointing towards a murdered woman. And clear warnings against Stephomi, his only friend. But that’s not all; Gabriel Antaeus is seeing strange, impossible things: a burning man is stalking his dreams and haunting his mirrors, his dreams are filled with violence from the past, and his pregnant young neighbour is surrounded by an extraordinary golden aura. Something dark and violent in Gabriel’s past is trying to resurface. And as he pieces the clues together, everything points towards an astounding war between angels and demons . . . and a battle not just for the future of the world, but for the minds and souls of everyone in it.

The Travel Bookshop and Cliona Lewis directed me to;

The Door by Magda Szabo

A young writer, struggling for success, employs an elderly woman called Emerence to be her housekeeper.From their first encounter it is clear that Emerence is no ordinary maid.Although everyone in the neighbourhood knows and respects her, no one knows anything about her private life or has ever crossed her threshold. Only a great drama in the writer’s life prompts Emerence to unveil glimpses of her traumatic past – a past which sheds light on her peculiar behaviour. The Door brilliantly evokes the development of the bond between these two very different women, and the tragic ending to their relationship.

Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb

Anxious to please his bourgeois father, Mihaly has joined the family firm in Budapest. Pursued by nostalgia for his bohemian youth, he seeks escape in marriage to Erzsi, not realising that she has chosen him as a means to her own rebellion. On their honeymoon in Italy, Mihaly ‘loses’ his bride at a provincial station and embarks on a chaotic and bizarre journey that leads him finally to Rome. There all the death-haunted and erotic elements of his past converge, and he, like Erzsi, has finally to make a choice.

Finally Nancy (sorcerapprent) suggested these last three books;

The Good Master, by Kate Seredy

Two cousins spend an adventurous summer on a ranch on the Hungarian plains.

Prague: A Novel, by Arthur Phillips (which despite the title is apparantly mostly set in Hungary!)

A group of American expats en route to adventure, inspiration, or perhaps even history-in-the-making in Prague, somehow get sidetracked and settle instead for the enigmatic city of Budapest. Arriving in Hungary’s capital to pursue his elusive brother, journalist John Price finds himself drawn into the din of Budapest’s nightclubs, a romance with a secretive young diplomat, the table of an elderly cocktail pianist, and the moody company of a young man obsessed with nostalgia, all in a bid to forget the larger questions that arise in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion. With humour, intelligence and masterly prose, Phillips captures the character of his contemporaries and brilliantly renders a very weird ‘modern’ city.

Danube, by Claudio Magris

This is a very Italian book, reminiscent of Italo Calvino or Roberto Calasso. Part history, part philosophy, part travelogue and literature in the richest, most amply rewarding sense. Writing with tremendous exuberance, Claudio Magris has produced a paean to what Hölderlin called “the river of melody”–the Danube, Europe’s main artery, and the heart of that elusive but fascinating zone known as Mitteleuropa.

That’s a pretty serious list – I might just have to use this as an excuse to have a little wander around with my book vouchers from Christmas and see what I can pick up!
In the meantime, have you read any of the books above? Have you been to Budapest?

26 responses to “Books Set in Hungary

  1. Did you see Silent Witness the last 2 nights Polly? That was the seedier side of Budapest but it hasn’t put me off wanting to go!

    I haven’t read or head of any of the above but I like the sound of a few of them. look forward to your reviews.

  2. Oooo, and of course, have a great break away!! 🙂

  3. Budapest is a wonderful city! I went there in 1998 and still have very fond memories of it. I expect it has opened up a lot more now and has probably become more Westernised. I would love to go back.

    That journey inspired me to read a big doorstep of a novel by Péter Nádas called “A Book of Memories”.

    And last year I read “Esther’s Inheritance”

    Enjoy your trip!

    • Thanks for the link Kim! I’ll have a read of that. Glad that you enjoyed it when you went. I went to Moscow a long time ago (about 15 years) and often wonder how much it has changed…

  4. Years since I read this book, but how about Csardas by Diane Pearson, I’m pretty sure it’s set in Hungary.

  5. hope you have a good time ,I m doing a Hungarian week later in year with most of these as been saving them for that ,all the best stu

    • Hi Stu, A Hungarian week – that’s great! Well I’m sure I’ll only manage to read 2 or 3 so perhaps I can join in when you do your week of Hungarian books…

  6. Okay, this is an awesome list. I really want to read almost all of these books right now. Have a nice trip!

  7. I’m envious of your trip! I’m currently reading The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, which is set in Paris and Hungary. It’s a sweeping tale of World War II, and I’m really loving it. Happy travels!

  8. Pingback: Tweets that mention Books Set in Hungary | Novel Insights --

  9. Blimey what a great selection of recommendations you have managed to get yourself through all those sources, its one of the best things about Twitter and blogging… the feedback and ideas.

    I now want to read ‘Life is a Dream’ as it sounds like a brilliant collection and I think I heard my mother rave about Embers once!

    • It really is quite amazing actually – doing that really conveyed to me what Twitter (or one of the things) is all about.

  10. I’m glad my link got you two books, because I really wasn’t sure if there would be any Hungarian books published through that series. They look good too! As do many of the other suggestions. Maybe I should do some country specific European reading sometime?

    I hope you have a great trip!

    • I know, what a good surprise! I’ve ordered one of them from Amazon already. I would say do country specific when you’re off some where nice (or perhaps to inspire you!).

  11. Wow! What a fantastic list! They all sound fantastic.

    • Thanks Mae… I went on a bit of a buying binge today and snapped a couple up. Let’s see if I get around to reading them all!

  12. I’m very late to the party, but you might be interested in the Hungarian _Journey Round My Skull_–a beautifully written non-fiction piece recently reprinted by NYRB.

    • Definitely not late to the party. Thanks for stopping by with your recommendation! I’m going to be updating the list in a couple of weeks so will add this and also look it up.

  13. That’s a really great list, Polly! Have fun choosing. I’ve actually read The Ninth Circle which I thought was an amazing book but forget it was set in Prague (oops!)

    • Whoops… although it sounds like the beginning is set in Budapest? Actually it sounds really good although I couldn’t get a copy in Waterstones by which time I had a stack of Hungarian books to read. One for the TBR perhaps… 🙂

  14. Pingback: Journey by Moonlight, Antal Szerb | Novel Insights

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