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A Journey Round My Skull

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  558 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
The distinguished Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy was sitting in a Budapest café, wondering whether to write a long-planned monograph on modern man or a new play, when he was disturbed by the roaring—so loud as to drown out all other noises—of a passing train. Soon it was gone, only to be succeeded by another. And another. Strange, Karinthy thought, it had been years sin ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published March 11th 2008 by NYRB Classics (first published 1939)
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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
11th out of 131 books — 134 voters
Stoner by John  WilliamsChess Story by Stefan ZweigThe Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy CasaresA High Wind in Jamaica by Richard HughesThe Summer Book by Tove Jansson
New York Review Books - Classics
184th out of 424 books — 531 voters

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Mar 26, 2012 William1 rated it really liked it
Who did the photo editing for this particular New York Review Book? My God, it's dreadful, and by far the most off-putting aspect of the book. The book itself is a fascinating autobiographical account by a well-known member of Hungary's pre-WW II literati who discovers that he has a brain tumor. The text itself is an interesting blend of travel writing, medical memoir, cultural observation, and philosophical inquiry. Karinthy is interested in the effect of his tumor on everything, not just himse ...more
Nov 06, 2012 Meaghan rated it really liked it
People interested in medicine and the history of medicine will enjoy this memoir by a middle-aged man who had a benign brain tumor removed in 1936. Karinthy, a Hungarian writer and journalist, was a bit of a celebrity in his native country and it was thanks to his social connections that he was able to be operated on by one of the best brain surgeons in the world. But the operation and Karinthy's recovery are only a small part of the book; he also covers in detail the months leading up to the op ...more
Jun 15, 2010 Kathrina rated it really liked it
I'll first list some interesting things I've learned about Karinthy:
--He was the first to posit the idea that any two people on earth are joined by six degrees of separation, an idea that seems almost ludicrous before the computer age.
--The cafe in which he performed most of his writing, including Journey, is called the Central Cafe, and still functions as it always has. I'm making a point to visit it on our trip to Budapest.
--In Journey, Karinthy makes a seemingly off-hand allusion to his firs
Dec 09, 2014 Leniw rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
4 or 5 stars? I am not sure yet.

This was a very powerful read. True to its title, it was a journey inside a skull and mind. Having lost a relative from brain cancer, I found this quite difficult to read at some points. Apart from that it was really interesting. The writing style was excellent.

In the end I felt that I truly knew this person. I love it when a book has this effect on me. It makes a connection, a real bond.
Oct 26, 2010 Catherine rated it liked it
Shelves: medicine, 2010, hungary
In his introduction to Karinthy's work, Oliver Sacks states that this is "the first autobiographical description of a journey inside the brain" - and while there are surely qualifiers to attach (in Western literature; in Western form) Karinthy's work does stand as a remarkable look at neurological illness, brain surgery, and treatment in early twentieth century Europe. The book is a muddle of styles - flamboyant description; stripped-bare medical detail; camp gossip - but within that muddle lies ...more
Apr 17, 2008 Nathaniel rated it it was amazing
In recognition of its thoroughness and accuracy, book store franchises shelve this memoir in the medical section, though it reads like literature. Frigyes Karinthy was a well known and much respected writer and humorist in Budapest in the 1930s when he began to suffer from intensifying auditory hallucinations. These disturbances initiate his progression through the medical establishments of Budapest, Vienna and Stockholm. In parallel, his symptoms accumulate, prompt various misdiagnoses (such as ...more
Jun 17, 2009 Jim rated it really liked it
A fascinating book by a Hungarian author describing the onset of a brain tumor in Budapest in the 1930s, and how his case came to be properly diagnosed after visiting many physicians there and in Vienna. Finally, when the diagnosis of a tumor in the cerebellum is made, he is sent to Dr. Olivecrona in Stockholm, Sweden, to actually perform the surgery. He recovered completely -- a real raity in those days -- only to die two years later of a stroke while stooping down to tie his shoelaces.

Sam Bissell
Mar 19, 2016 Sam Bissell rated it it was amazing
I can't remember what drew me to this book because, ordinarily, I wouldn't have bought it, so it must have been a referral from looking up another book. Having finished it at all is a testament to it's being a great book despite the odd title. I believe I chose it because the spiel sounded interesting: "he was disturbed by the roaring—so loud as to drown out all other noises—of a passing train. Soon it was gone, only to be succeeded by another. And another. Strange, Karinthy thought, it had been ...more
Jan 09, 2016 Peter rated it really liked it
If you don’t already know what a trephine is, this book will give you a memorable encounter with one. (Although any encounter with one promises to be memorable, as it is a rather primitive-looking surgical instrument with a single disagreeable purpose: to bore a circular hole through one’s skull.) And if you don’t have a brain tumor (most of you, I hope), this book will give you an idea of what it might be like. At first, there is the suspicion that something is wrong, but frighteningly soon the ...more
Yuri Faenza
Aug 10, 2015 Yuri Faenza rated it liked it
The Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy tells the story of his brain tumour, from the first symptoms to the successful surgical operation that led to its removal. The author reconstructs the events using his annotations from the period, enriching them with his humoristic style and the cheerfulness of someone who was able to survive such a terrible illness.

Everything starts with the annoying noise of some trains, that sounded real but were in fact only in the author's head. It continues with small
Oct 20, 2014 Patrick rated it liked it
Karinthy was a journalist/essayist, and this book does a good job of getting at the experience of what it's like to have a brain tumor, as well as the denial, misdiagnosis, fear, and lack of human concern that individuals with a serious illness face. The author is not a great stylist, and seems more intent on amusing himself than addressing his emotions directly; as such, this account is not compelling, but it's still worth a look.
Jan 04, 2016 Lis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un documento molto interessante in cui viene raccontata dall'interno come una malattia così critica è stata scoperta e affrontata. L'Autore descrive con lucidità ma anche ironia come si è reso conto di essere malato, i suoi dubbi, le sue paure, i suoi stati d'animo.
Non gli do il massimo dei voti solo perchè ogni tanto si concede alcune divagazioni filosofiche che mi sono sembrate superflue.
Mar 30, 2015 Jdu FFH rated it liked it
Shelves: hongaren
Karinthy goes to the doctor and gets surgery on his brain tumor. In 2015, this would make an super-extraordinary writer to make this fact into an exciting novel. In Karinthy's time, brain surgery was almost unheard of, you had to travel by train through Nazi Germany to reach the Swedish doctor who could perform such an operation, and you had to stumble upon the Hungarian doctors who even knew of such a thing as brain surgery and diagnose you with it.
Karinthy describes this process, from the firs
Mar 31, 2008 Mark marked it as to-read
While sitting in a Budapest café, writer Frigyes Karinthy (1887–1938) suddenly heard the roaring of a train, without there being a train station nearby. The roaring noise he heard over and over again turned out to be an auditory hallucination, and the writer’s calvary began.

Even though he fainted on several occasions and his eyesight deteriorated severely, first neither he nor his doctors suspected serious illness. But as his symptoms became more and more severe, he arrived at the conclusion tha
Oct 06, 2013 John rated it really liked it
very interesting first-hand perspective read from someone who survived early modern brain surgery. karinthy's story traces his early symptoms through to the actual surgery. his metaphors and descriptions of the hallucinations, pains and general experiences are enlightening and relevant. he considers the scientific without getting away from the human. it bogs a bit in the middle when he's finally worried some about the surgery, but otherwise the flow is good and the story + his thought processes ...more
Aug 25, 2008 Dave rated it really liked it
A neat book--Karinthy was a Hungarian humorist/journalist/etc., so the book about his brain tumor and operation reads a little like James Thurber. A closer comparison might be Joseph Heller/Speed Vogel's "No Laughing Matter," but with fantasy sequences and creative descriptions, this is a much more interesting book (though I wouldn't call it funny--the humor is dated and James Thurber is better). The later chapters--when he gets a little less goofy and a little more scared--are actually better, ...more
Aug 08, 2016 Jackson rated it it was ok
Kinda self-indulgent.
Jun 24, 2014 Barbara rated it really liked it
Extremely entertaining, clever...
Patrizia Bianchi Marini
Ho trovato il libro molto interessante, forse anche perché scritto in altri tempi. La personalità dello scrittore, nonché protagonista, gioca indubbiamente un ruolo fondamentale nella storia oltre che nello stile narrativo; nessun altro avrebbe potuto affrontare la malattia in quel modo.
Valerie Osbourn
Sep 14, 2010 Valerie Osbourn rated it it was ok
This book was good, in a medical way. Maybe it was the translation but the writing was at once dry and flowery. I could have skipped the first 3/4 of the book, as it did not add much. The operation itself, as told from the patient was fascinating. Apart from that it was a bit...bland.
Mar 25, 2013 Joana rated it really liked it
On Crusoe's island (...) I see now that there is little point in crying out against injustice of man or the cruelty of fate, for, if my friend betrays and my brother in arms deceive me, a foreigner whom I never knew comes forward and saves my life.
Jan 15, 2008 Emese rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, classics
Karinthy, always.

Too bad the world won't know his genious for the lack of translations and the impossible task of translating the full depth of his writing.

He is Vonegut and Huxley and Defoe and so much more than all of them combined.
Aug 24, 2010 Pete rated it really liked it
This book is great, the author writes about his experience living through (though eventually dying from) a brain tumor. Amazing descriptions of brain surgery while conscious. Read this one while my dog was dying of a brain tumor, sad, strange...
Jun 19, 2013 Ffiamma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: est
racconto lucido, drammatico e ironico di una malattia e della conseguente operazione. qualche volo pindarico, ma un libro impressionante, letterario, intelligente. piccolo classico della letteratura ungherese anni 30.
(grazie andrea!)
Jan 19, 2009 Luke rated it liked it
This book is very interesting. It was a first hand account of a brain tumor surgery. It can be very wordy at some times. I would recommend this book to someone that doesn't know what book to read next.
Maree Kimberley
May 30, 2011 Maree Kimberley rated it really liked it
incredible to read a book about a person's experience of a brain tumour, written back in the 1930s almost 30 years before the word "neuroscience" was first used.
Jan 19, 2012 Eve rated it it was ok
One of the best books that exist in hungarian language but also one of the hardest to read, the low stars I gave is because the book itself is too cryptic.
Apr 03, 2013 Niko rated it liked it
Interesting book, at moments a bit hard to follow author's train of thought. Took me a while to read it, but was well worth the effort.
Dec 28, 2008 eleni added it
Recommends it for: Laura, Jason
Added to list after reading Oliver Sacks' article in the NY Review of Books.
Dec 10, 2010 Whitaker rated it liked it
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
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NYRB Classics: A Journey Round My Skull, by Frigyes Karinthy 1 7 Oct 23, 2013 02:39PM  
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Frigyes Karinthy (25 June 1887 in Budapest – 29 August 1938 in Siófok) was a Hungarian author, playwright, poet, journalist, and translator. He was the first proponent of the six degrees of separation concept, in his 1929 short story, Chains (Láncszemek). Karinthy remains one of the most popular Hungarian writers. He was the father of poet Gábor Karinthy and writer Ferenc Karinthy.
Among the Englis
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“My head ached. I was thinking of the pain, and wondering how it was possible for physical agony to be so intense. I had never imagined that such a torture could be endured. Yet here was I, both conscious and able to think clearly. And not only to think, but to observe the process and make calculations about it. The steel circle round my skull was closing in with faint cracking noises. How much farther could it shrink? I counted the cracking sounds. Since I took the triple dose of pain-killer, there had been two more. …I took out my watch and laid it on the table.

“Give me morphia,” I said in a calm, hostile, icy tone.

“You mustn’t take morphia! You know perfectly well. The very idea! And what are you doing with that watch?”

“You will give me morphia within three minutes.”

They looked me uneasily up and down. No one moved. Three minutes went by. Then ten more. I slipped the watch calmly into my pocket and rose unsteadily to my feet.

“Then take me to the Fiakker Bar. They say it’s a good show, and to-night I want to enjoy myself.”

The others jumped up with a feeling of relief.

I never confessed the secret to anyone, either then or afterwards. I had made up my mind at the end of those three minutes — for the first and last time in my life — that if my headache had not stopped within the next ten I should throw myself under the nearest tram.

It never came out whether I should have kept to my resolve, for the pain left with the suddenness of lighting.”
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