Literary roundup: Counting statues and parallel lives

The Budapest Times has an article comparing the number of statues erected to notable figures with the idea that it will reveal something of “the intellectual and spiritual state of a nation.” Looking at the number of statues of writers put up since 1989 offers an interesting contrast:

Albert Wass (writer): 49

Sándor Márai (writer): 4

I have never heard of Albert Wass, but the parallel is interesting because they were of the same generation and both ended up living in sunny parts of the US – Márai in California, Wass in Florida – and both ended their lives by suicide. A further parallel is that neither of the two writers’ birthplaces are part of Hungary anymore (Slovakia and Romania).

That is where the similarities end though. Wass was a right-winger who wrote a thinly veiled allegorical story following the ghettoization of Jews in Transylvania called “Land Occupation of the Rats.” He was declared a war criminal by the Romanian government and calls for his posthumous exoneration have come from Hungary’s extremist right-wing party Jobbik. When some of these 49 statues were built there were protests from Hungarian writers.

The only sample I found of Wass’s work is breathtakingly bad. Having God as a character is definitely one strike against the story. A one sentence example says it all:

“The sun had just come up. Its laughing rays ran through the tree tops on golden stallions.”

Another striking sentence comes from a review of Wass’s 1976 novel Sword and Sickle in the Canadian-American Review of Hungarian Studies:

“Wass is not one of those trend-following writers who exploit sex in order to appease certain elements of the reading public.”

What a relief. No wonder he has so many statues.

More parallels

Speaking of parallels Sign and Sight has a translation of a long, involved piece by Joachim Sartorius originally published in Der Freitag on Parallel Stories by Peter Nádas (I suppose it’s hard to write a short critical article about a 1,100 and something page novel that took 18 years to write).

Sign and Sight also parallels the American road trip made by the Russian writing pair Ilf and Petrov with the Russian visit carried out in 1947 by John Steinbeck and photographer Robert Capa.

Czech interviews

A couple of Czech writers have given some recent interviews. Tomáš Zmeškal, who I wrote about not long ago, talked to Radio Prague about his current writing projects, including a journalistic reportage about the meeting of his Czech mother and Congolese father.

And at The Prague Post, Ivan Klíma talks about returning to Prague in ’68 after the Soviet invasion as well as the background behind the making and distribution of Samizdat texts and his meeting with Philip Roth (who still sends him his new books).

Photos – 1) Ilf and Petrov by E. Langman, 1932, 2) One of the 49 Albert Wass statues in Hungary, 3) A monument to Ilf and Petrov’s Twelve Chairs in Odessa, Ukraine

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