Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

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Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A gentle and melancholic study of the effects of World War Two and the subsequent repressive regime on three neighbouring families in Hungary. The four children lead a carefree life before the outbreak of hostilities, playing happily together in their gardens, all unaware of the clouds that mass above them, until disaster strikes and changes them all forever.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: January 2019
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 9780857058454

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This is a story about the past. A specific past, certainly, in the form of pre-war Budapest, but also a story about how that past can impact on the present and the future. In this book, the first of three Magda Szabó wrote on the same theme between 1969 and 1987 and now newly translated and reissued, we witness a heart-rending nostalgia for happier days, guilt about those who did not survive, and a dogged but doomed determination to cling to long-gone times, feelings and experiences which mark the here and now, staining and warping it into another, subtler misery.

The story opens with scenes from the childhood of Bálint, Irén, Blanka and their little Jewish friend Henriette. The two oldest children, Bálint and Irén, seemed destined from the start to be together, but war soon destroys all their certainties, splitting them up and sending them far from each other both emotionally and physically as they grieve for Henriette, killed while in their care. The memory of the easy contentment they experienced when they were neighbours in Katalin Street, and the wretchedness of life during the war and afterwards, somehow freezes their lives, preventing them from moving on, from adapting to the new age and the new realities. In fact, the happiest of them all in many ways is Henriette, still existing to some extent in a ghostly form: she alone is able to fully withdraw from the miseries of the present and mould for herself a living image of the life she once had.

Magda Szabo was born in 1917 in Hungary, and endured at first-hand all the privations and sorrows of the war in Eastern Europe. Under the Communist regime she was branded an enemy of the people despite winning one of Hungary's most prestigious prizes for her writing, and she was banned from publishing until the end of the Stalinist era. Since then she has won international acclaim for her books which are now being republished. Much credit, by the way, is due to Len Rix, whose translation reads so easily that it is hard to remember that the original was not written in English. The book is elegiac and wistful, bittersweet and occasionally brutal, and bears clear and moving testimony to the horrors of war and extremism.

Another highly recommended book about a family living through World War II in Hungary is Csardas by Diane Pearson. Originally published in 1975, it has, like Magda Szabo's book, been reissued recently, and gives a clear and intriguing insight into the everyday life of the era.

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Buy Katalin Street by Magda Szabo at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Katalin Street by Magda Szabo at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Katalin Street by Magda Szabo at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Katalin Street by Magda Szabo at Amazon.com.


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