30 September, which is the feast day of St. Jerome, the patron saint of all translators out there, marks International Translation Day. With a native language spoken by 14 million people in the world, there are only a handful of Hungarian novels translated into English, therefore it’s quite a big deal when it happens. As always, the bests do succeed; here’s a partial list of them.
Embers by Sándor Márai (1942)
Born in 1900 in Kassa, Austria-Hungary, Márai lived through wars, German and Soviet oppression, revolutions, and exile: his life miserably mirrors the 20th century Hungary. First published in 1942, Embers, often referred to as the novel of friendship, was translated into French, German, and Italian in the second half of the century, while the English translation written by Carol Brown Janeway was only published in 2001.
The Door by Magda Szabó (1987)
First published in Hungary in 1987, The Door is probably the most well-known novel by popular Hungarian writer Magda Szabó. Packed with autobiographical references, the plot unfolds around the relationship of a young female writer, Magda and her elderly housekeeper, Emerence. Their complicated connection that is full of intense, often contradictory emotions and affectionate love demonstrates what matters the most and what doesn’t in the lives of the 20th century people, and also, in ours today.
A Little Hungarian Pornography by Péter Esterházy (1991)
Although internationally acknowledged as one of the most prominent writers in Central Europe, it is not always easy to follow Péter Esterházy’s train of thought that is often marked by quotations, paraphrases, and allusions, but it’s always worth the effort. His 1984 novel, A Little Hungarian Pornography was an attack on communism: Esterházy contrasts the lack of democracy, economic chaos, and oppression with the freedom of the body in sex. The book was translated into English by the brilliant Judith Sollosy in 1997.
Captivity by György Spiró (2005)
Captivity by Hungarian dramatist, novelist and translator György Spiró focuses on the early days of Christianity that defines the western culture we live in today. The narrative follows the young Uri of Jewish origin throughout four books and four travels: Rome, Judea, Alexandria, and Rome again. On more than 800 pages, Spiró takes his readers on an adventure to the first century A.D. that’s described with great detail, humour, and wisdom. First published in 2005 after twelve years of hard work, the Bildungsroman was translated into English by Tim Wilkinson in 2015.