WITmonth Q&As: Ágnes Orzóy on Hungary

Throughout August, Literalab asked writers, translators and publishers to comment on both the women writers from their own language they most appreciate having been translated into English as well as those they would most like to see make the leap.

Ágnes Orzóy is the editor of Hungarian Literature Online and editor-at-large at Asymptote. She has recently edited Miklós Szentkuthy’s novel Prae for Contra Mundum Press, and is currently editing Melancholy by László Földényi for Yale University Press.

Ágnes Orzóy

Ágnes Orzóy

Can you name one or two women writers that you are particularly grateful that they have been translated from your own languages/countries into English?

Among the very few books by contemporary Hungarian women writers translated into English perhaps the most interesting is Noémi Szécsi’s Finno-Ugrian Vampire, narrated by a vampire girl who refuses to continue the family tradition of sucking blood. Written in 2002, before the onset of the literary vampire craze, it is an extremely funny and clever novel, with a lot to say also about Eastern Europeans and the stereotypes concerning them. Szécsi certainly has a flair for titles – another brilliant and as yet untranslated novel by her is entitled Communist Monte Cristo.


One Woman in the War. Hungary 1944–1945 by Alaine Polcz (1925–2007) is definitely a must-read. In unadorned style and a matter-of-fact voice, Polcz recounts her own experiences during World War II, including repeated gang rape by Soviet soldiers, a topic that was (and still largely is) taboo in Hungarian society though it affects a staggering number of women, estimated in hundreds of thousands.

The third book I’d like to recommend is Between Words and Silence, a collection of essays, or rather prose poems, by Zsuzsa Beney (1930–2006), a major poet whose ethereal yet precise and lucid writings were translated by Mark Griffith, with an introduction by Hungarian-born British poet George Szirtes.

Zsuzsa Beney

Zsuzsa Beney

Can you name one or two women writers from your own languages/countries yet to be translated into English that you would especially like to see reaching English-language readers?

There is one book that immediately came to my mind when reading this question, as the obvious choice. Zsuzsa Rakovszky had been an established poet for decades when she came out with her first novel, The Snake’s Shadow, in 2002. Set in the 17th century and narrated by a woman, this novel is a powerful, passionate and beautifully written story about incest and witchcraft, plague and fire, love and hatred.



There are lots of other talented women writing in Hungary nowadays, and it’s hard to choose just one or two among them, but since I have to, I have opted for Edina Szvoren (1974). She is a short story writer with two collections to her name who writes strange, chiseled stories about eroded bodies and souls, with an uncommon empathy and compassion.

Read more WITmonth Q&As:

WITmonth Q&As: Megan Berkobien on Spanish+Catalan

WITmonth Q&As: Natasha Perova on Russia

WITmonth Q&As: Bogdan Suceava on Romania

WITmonth Q&As: Susan Curtis on Bosnia and Croatia

Read an interview Noémi Szécsi in Literalab for her appearance in European Literature Night 2012 here

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