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Journey by Moonlight

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,231 Ratings  ·  185 Reviews
A major classic of 1930s literature, Antal Szerb's Journey by Moonlight (Utas és Holdvilág) is the fantastically moving and darkly funny story of a bourgeois businessman torn between duty and desire.

'On the train, everything seemed fine. The trouble began in Venice ...'

Mihály has dreamt of Italy all his life. When he finally travels there, on his honeymoon with Erszi, he s
Paperback, 299 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by Pushkin Press (first published 1937)
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Hargitai Fiuedu Mr. Len Rix does not speak Hungarian and used a midwife and a previous English version that appeared as early as 1990 and 1994. The New York Times…moreMr. Len Rix does not speak Hungarian and used a midwife and a previous English version that appeared as early as 1990 and 1994. The New York Times Review of Books designated Mr. Rix's version a classic because of Szerb, and not because of JOURNEY BY MOONLIGHT -- a mistranslation of the original "Utas es holdvilag" or "Traveler and the Moonlight."
Embers by Sándor MáraiJourney by Moonlight by Antal SzerbFatelessness by Imre KertészThe Paul Street Boys by Ferenc MolnárThe Door by Magda Szabó
20th Century Hungarian Literature
2nd out of 131 books — 128 voters
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail BulgakovThe Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan KunderaAnna Karenina by Leo TolstoyWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Greatest Eastern European Classics
60th out of 332 books — 163 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jan 05, 2011 David marked it as spurned
The odds that I will finish this book are, according to most statisticians, negligible, so I should just dispense with the charade and chuck this bitch on the discard pile. It's currently on the far side of my bedside table, where it continues to collect a thin layer of what I would call picturesque dust. I look at it before I go to sleep every night, but only out of the corner of my eyes, because it silently accuses me of failure, and as the days go by its silence grows louder and louder and mo ...more
This is the sort of book I that you come across somewhere (in this case, a castle library in Italy) and feel sure that it was hiding there all this time, waiting for you to find it. The author is Hungarian, and the novel was originally published in 1937; its English translation appeared in 2000. 'Journey by Moonlight' is unlike any novel I've read: the atmosphere is both dreamy & descriptive, rich in history and detail. The characters are interesting, and the dialogue is excellent ...more
Jun 30, 2016 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To step off. The train. The bus. The world. The marriage. Surely you've thought of it.

This is Europe before World War II. But that's not essential to the story. Mussolini is mentioned but he has no moment. It is not that kind of allegory.

It is Mihály who steps off, stepping off the train during his honeymoon in Italy. He leaves his new bride Erzsi on the train. It seems an accident when Mihály steps off, but it is no accident. There was a group of friends in Mihály's impressionable years. Of his
Journey by Moonlight is an apt title for this surreal story about a Hungarian man, Mihaly, longing for the world of his youth and taking an emotional journey to his future. He had made the effort to live a conventional middle-class life, work in finance in a family firm, and marry a proper woman. On their honeymoon in Italy, Mihaly mixes up the trains and finds himself separated from his wife. He wonders if the marriage was a mistake, and does not try to find her.

It's an opportunity to escape hi
Jul 04, 2016 Nigeyb rated it it was amazing
Over the last few years I’ve had a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from books set in and around Eastern Europe*. I was inspired to seek more interesting Eastern European books, and so it was that I came across Journey by Moonlight.

At the time of writing, the most liked review of Journey by Moonlight on GoodReads, and the third most liked review, were from readers who were unable to finish this book. That concerned me. I do not have much patience with "difficult" books. I adore beautiful, atmosp
Lorenzo Berardi
Dec 04, 2013 Lorenzo Berardi rated it really liked it
The first time I've heard about Antal Szerb was no more than two months ago. Since then, I managed to put my hands onto all the novels by Szerb translated into English, whose number equals to three.

I had the luck to make a good catch while visiting an Oxfam charity shop in lovely Bath, UK.
Bless the kind reader who donated Szerb's novels to Oxfam!

'Journey by Moonlight' ('Utas és holdvilág'), published in 1937, is widely considered as Szerb's masterpiece, but I must confess that I liked 'The Pen
Ben Winch
Boy, am I ever having a problem finishing books lately! This one has almost grabbed me, and I've made it to within 50 pages of its 230-page end, but I can't help noticing it's been almost grabbing me since I started it, with no increase in my interest since. Granted, it's hard to read when you've just fallen in love, with a woman with three rowdy sons, and moved house 1000kms, and when you're not absorbed in deep conversation or communion or trying to entertain or discipline children can hardly ...more
Sam Schulman
Jan 15, 2010 Sam Schulman rated it it was amazing
Still reading, but if you read only one pretentiously titled and obscurely-middle-European-authored book this year, or perhaps in your life, it should be this small masterpiece by Szerb (killed in 1943), of whom I - I! - had never heard. To describe the plot - with world-weary Hungarian newlyweds on a honeymoon in 1930s Italy, memories of a beautiful brother-and-sister set of schoolfriends from Buda - or perhaps Pest - on the verge of incest, and with suicides, another schoolfriend who becomes a ...more
Chuck LoPresti
Apr 01, 2011 Chuck LoPresti rated it it was amazing
Very intelligent and well read author. His light touch but weighty contemplation reminds me of Proust and Walser. He is compared to Schulz but I think that's most likely due to their shared tragic deaths. This is a book of intrigues but it won't be off-putting to those that abhore such typical subjects because the writing is so skilled. The quality of Hungarian writers such as Krudy, Kostolanyi and Krasznahorkai are no longer a secret to the informed reader but it might be Szerb that tops them a ...more
Jim Coughenour
Nov 02, 2014 Jim Coughenour rated it really liked it
Foied vinom pipafo, cra carefo.

A Faliscan saying, meaning "Enjoy the wine today, tomorrow there'll be none." Szerb quotes it twice in this short novel, and it's as good an epigraph as any for Journey by Moonlight's comic melancholy.

It took me three tries to get into this novel, but then its sad humorous charm began to work on me and I couldn't put it down. Mostly it's told from the bemused perspective of Mihály, a failed conformist from Budapest who deserts his new wife on their Italian honeymoo
Apr 25, 2009 Laura rated it really liked it
I loved this book, and Antal Szerb is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. The story itself is quite absurd, though mostly in a good way, but the real thing for me was the writing. It's beautiful, creates a fascinating atmosphere and every now and then, when you least expect it, you bump into some random sentence that cracks you up or is thought-provoking or otherwise impressive.

The feeling I got from this was somehow quite close to Daphne du Maurier's novels, though Szerb adds more hum
Jul 09, 2009 Katri rated it it was amazing
I don't really have words for why I loved this book so much. There are a lot of things about it that I can see not appealing to people, but somehow I really adored it. The atmosphere is very strong and I love all the travelling in Europe and brooding about life and death and the displays of the author's huge cultural knowledge that don't come across as snobbish but just natural. Mihály is quite an antihero, but I can't help liking him - perhaps just more so because it's nice to for once read abo ...more
Nóra Blaskovits
Feb 09, 2014 Nóra Blaskovits rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favourite books ever, and I’m pretty sad about it not being as renowned internationally as it deserves to be.

So, I really want to write this review hoping that it would get to more people eventually, but I’m only going to write what the novel is about, and I refuse to ruin it by trying to analyze it or find it’s meaning and put it into words. You know the semantical problem: a word is never able to reflect the true meaning of its denotation. Therefore if I ever try to put the m
Justin Evans
Jul 10, 2015 Justin Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is very confusing--Szerb's book reminds me so much of the English novel* (of the ironic-E. M. Forster paradigm), but is just slightly off. This might have something to do with the problems of translation; the prose just isn't that crisp, and the gentle-irony thing does depend on the crisp prose thing. Other confusions include the deep religiosity ('spirituality', if you must), which is equally unlikely in the Forsterian world, and the marketing, which isn't Szerb's fault, but rest assured t ...more
Jun 18, 2014 Alan rated it it was amazing
I loved this elegant ride through a strange and haunting Italy as a man is separated from his wife (on honeymoon). Absorbing, dreamlike, wonderful, but unsettling too.
found this in my 2003 notebook: absorbed to the hilt by this Hungarian take on Italy during the 30s.. lovely, aching with indecision and love, eroticism, steeped in history
Aug 01, 2015 AC rated it liked it
The actual novel is not as good as the cover art. The prose is in translationese, the plot artificial, the characters are somewhat cardboardish. Could have skipped this one. Finished more out of guilt than necessity.
Mark Broadhead
Sep 05, 2013 Mark Broadhead rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourite-novels
A wonderful novel. Do not be put off by the atrocious cover or the whimsical title. It is like Hamlet crossed with Kundera. Do not be put off by that atrocious comparison.
Jan 31, 2015 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hungary, humor, fiction
Every January, I read books only by authors I have never before read. This month, the biggest surprise was my countryman Antal Szerb, whose Journey by Moonlight is a strange amalgam of depression and gentle irony.

Mihaly (Michael) and Erszi (Elizabeth) are on their honeymoon in Italy. Strange things keep happening. Mihaly's youth in Budapest keeps coming back to haunt him. When he steps off the train for a coffee at a station, he takes the wrong train, with him going to Perugia and Erszi to Rome
Apr 06, 2013 M. rated it it was amazing

Schoolgirl Suicide Cult Forms around Forgotten Hungarian Classic! Okay, that is a little misleading, but the novel Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb is rumored to have pushed more than one weepy romantic coed over the edge. Unlike similar cultish works such as Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther and Plath’s The Bell Jar, Szerb’s novel is not actually about suicide, at least not in the literal sense. Its appeal is more cryptic and profound; lying in the narrator’s vacillation between the world’s
May 15, 2016 Val rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-tour, byt-main
This book is beautiful, romantic, nostalgic, evocative and comes from Hungary.
It is the story of a young man who has given up a youthful, free-wheeling life spent discussing books and art in cafes and bars for a life of respectability, of working in his father's firm and marrying a suitable girl. On their honeymoon he accidentally takes the wrong train and the couple are separated. This chance escape from his expected course makes him reconsider what he wants from life, so instead of returning t
Jun 04, 2015 diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, novela
Hace mucho tiempo que no leo algo tan oscuro. Es una novela sobre la muerte, sobre querer/aceptar morir, sobre cómo los muertos están presentes. Escrita por un judío humanista en el año 1936, en algún lugar de Europa. Trata sobre un húngaro burgués que huye de su mujer en plena luna de miel. Se dedica a vagar por Italia. ¿Por qué Italia? Porque está muriendo y porque se siente atraído a las formas en que los pueblos se relacionan con sus fantasmas.

Si la considero una gran novela es justamente p
Jan 06, 2015 Marwan rated it really liked it
الرواية تعد أحد أهم أعمال الكاتب المجرى الأصل أنتل صرب ( أو الصربى) و يالها من رواية صعبة فقد أخذت معى وقتا طويلا رغم أنها تعتبر متوسطة الطول .و هى تحكى قصة تدور لها على ثلاث محاور متداخلة و متشابكة قد تكون غير ملحوظة بوضوح إلا فى آخرها
المحور الأول كيف نحافظ على أسلوبنا فى الحياة و نحقق ما نريده نحن و ليس ما يريده المجتمع منا ؟ كيف نحافظ على أستقلاليتنا دون أن نؤذى غيرنا الذى يطالبنا على الدوام بما لا نهتم به إذ كيف تعيش منعزلا أنعزالا تاما عن المجتمع ,كيف تتجرد من الأفكار و القيم البرجوازية ؟
Parrish Lantern
“ON THE TRAIN everything seemed fine. The trouble began in Venice, with the back alleys.” This is our introduction to Mihaly a Hungarian businessman on his honeymoon in Venice. Mihaly has married his wife Erzi to escape from an adolescent rebellious nature and into the arms of conformity, part of the problem faced is his newly wed bride has married him as an attempt to escape the bourgeois conformity of her life prior to meeting him. As stated in the opening lines, the trouble began with those a ...more
Michalle Gould
Feb 08, 2016 Michalle Gould rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally unique and with a growing sense of melancholy. It made me think a bit of something Kundera talks about in Testaments Betrayed, how in Don Quixote a bunch of characters happen to come together in a tavern for no real reason but in contemporary fiction authors would feel they had to justify why they were there, that we have lost the freedom to just write random improbable coincidences into novels. I don't know if that's true (and TB was talking about contemporary fiction twenty years ago o ...more
ဟနေဂရီစာေရးဆရာရဲ ေကာက စာအုပ
ဒါေပမယ ဖတရတာက အခုေခတမွာ ေရးထားသလိုပဲ
ဇာတလမးက honeymoon ထြကလာတဲ လငမယားမွာ အဓိကဇာတေကာငျဖစတဲ သူရဲ midlife crisisလိုပဲ ေျပာရမလား identityကို ရွာေဖြတဲ အေၾကာငး
အတိတနဲ ခြာမရတဲ ခမးနားတဲ အီတလီိုငငံကလဲ အဲလိုျဖစေအာင အေထာကအပံေပးေနတယ
ၿပီးေတာ သူစိတထဲမွာ မရွငးလငးေသးတဲ သူငယဘဝက သူငယခငးေတြနဲ အတိတ
ဝတၳဳဟာ သူဘာျဖစမလဲ အေျဖရွာေတြမွာလား societyနဲပဲ conformityျဖစေအာငေနသြားမွာလား အတိတနဲေကာ ရွငးလငးတဲ နားလညသေဘာေပါကမေတြရသြားမွာလား စတဲ ေမးခြနးမားစြာနဲ
ကၽြနေတာကို ဒီစာအုပဆီ စြဲေခၚလာတာက စာေရးဆရာရဲ စိတဝငစ
Jean-Paul Werner Walshaw-Sauter

"Even in those days old things attracted me more than new ones. For me the deepest truth was found only in things suffused with the life of many generations [...]"

The novel starts with Mihály and his wife, Erszi leaving Budapest for their honeymoon in Italy shortly after their precipitous wedding. They had been having an adulterous relationship for roughly a year, when Erszi suddenly decided to leave her husband and marry Mihály. No sooner have they arrived in Italy, than Mihály starts having mo
Steve Petherbridge
Apr 05, 2014 Steve Petherbridge rated it liked it
Lost in translation. This book was hyped as belonging with the best literature. The Guardian - paperbacks of the year. Times Literary Supplement International books of the Year. Daily Telegraph. London Review of Books etc.i really did give this book a try, but, I believe that Len Rix's translation doesn't do it justice, resulting in a disjointed novel of a young man's running away from home seeking a truer understanding of himself. The English used and sentences, perhaps are a bit too literal. C ...more
Sarah Maguire
A little confused as to what to think about this book. Both it and the author get immense plaudits across the internet so I felt rather like the child in the story of emperor's new clothes. It's a good book, but quite how it was THAT good remains a mystery to me.
Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, there are wonderfully wry moments throughout, it drips irony betimes and the story carries you along (even though nothing much happens and there is definitely a mild flirtation with the
Nov 10, 2011 Stephen rated it really liked it
The story seems to focus on how our character traits determine our destiny. I was never surprised by the choices of any of the people inhabiting the book but yet kept reading to see what they would do next. And what Szerb does so well in this is maintain the reader’s sympathies for fairly schmucky people, especially the protagonist Mihaly. Much more spiritual than I expected it to be when I picked it up, and the author handles the subject magnificently. Coincidences are abound, though I never go ...more
Nov 02, 2011 BarbaraNathalie rated it it was amazing
At a time when Budapest is enamored with the idea of suicide, Antal Szerb puts an intriguing spin on the ideas that frequent the minds of adolescents and young adults. Mihaly is on his honeymoon with his wife whom he selected because she fit the bourgousie lifestyle he is required to live.
He has many fears, and the most intense fear is that of living a life he doesn't want to live.
He inadverdantly loses his wife and heads into a downward spiral while trying to repeat his lost youth. There are so
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Bright Young Things: July 2016 Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb 28 24 Jul 23, 2016 07:30AM  
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Szerb was born in 1901 to assimilated Jewish parents in Budapest, but baptized Catholic. He studied Hungarian, German and later English, obtaining a doctorate in 1924. From 1924 to 1929 he lived in France and Italy, also spending a year in London, England.
As a student he published essays on Georg Trakl and Stefan George, and quickly established a formidable reputation as a scholar, writing erudite
More about Antal Szerb...

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“In London November isn't a month, it's a state of mind.” 26 likes
“Everyone has to find his own way to die.” 14 likes
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