This alternately hilarious and melancholy classic of Hungarian literature plumbs the psyches of a husband and wife burdened with a homely daughter. After Ákos Vajkay and his wife, Antónia, dispatch Skylark, their stifling, unattractive and overbearing daughter, to visit with relatives, they revitalize their lives in Szarszeg, their backwater village, and recapture their youth with the Panthers, a schnapps-swilling men’s social club. During their daughterless week, Ákos and Antónia rekindle their joy in living, taking in a transformative production of The Geisha and engaging in a drinking binge and epic meals at the local tavern. With their health and happiness returned to them, the disquieting realization of Skylark’s return sets in, leading to an inevitable confrontation. The author slyly depicts a smalltown life that remains curiously relevant today with his exploration of the tension between the politics of the left and the right, atheism and Christianity, and parents and their children. Though written 80 years ago, this remains a deftly executed, thoughtful meditation on mortality and the passage of time.
“..a superb, deeply poignant short novel, but also of a gifted translator…I believe that anyone can enjoy, say, Skylark as literature in English, even if they have no special knowledge of, or interest in, Hungary and the lost world of the Habsburg monarchy…Kosztolanyi’s writing is good enough to transcend the cultural difference that does exist.” –Timothy Garton-Ash, The Independent (London)
“This short, perfect novel seems to encapsulate all the world’s pain in a soap bubble. Its surface is as smooth as a fable, its setting and characters are unremarkable, its tone is blithe, and its effect is shattering.” –Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books
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