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Skylark

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3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  1,343 Ratings  ·  151 Reviews
It is 1900, give or take a few years. The Vajkays—call them Mother and Father—live in Sárszeg, a dead-end burg in the provincial heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Father retired some years ago to devote his days to genealogical research and quaint questions of heraldry. Mother keeps house. Both are utterly enthralled with their daughter, Skylark. Unintelligent, unimagi ...more
Paperback, 222 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by NYRB Classics (first published 1924)
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Dnl The cover and the metadata correspond to the Spanish translation from Hungarian.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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David
Sep 07, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Wow. The last fifty pages or so of Skylark are pretty damn brutal. You know how there are a whole bunch of really ugly truths about life that we generally just brush off or lie to ourselves about? This book confronts some of them head-on. And the honesty is actually a little harrowing at times. Here's my own real-life point-of-comparison: when I was a teenager and worked at a movie theater this one guy used to come in a lot (always alone) to see movies. Not so unusual, right? Well, the reason I ...more
Paul Bryant
Feb 14, 2012 Paul Bryant rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Well, some things remain truths universally acknowledged. Certainly this has been and still is held to be true here in Nottingham, England :

He had much to report... who had been drinking wine, or champagne, or schnapps, and how much of each had been consumed by whom; and finally who had been sick and how many times. For in Sarszeg this served as the surest measure of a good time. Those who were sick twice had had a better time than those who were only sick once. Yesterday some had even been sick
...more
S.
Jul 23, 2013 S. rated it really liked it
To be completely superficial let me start by saying that for a book concerning ugliness, this has a beautiful cover. The colors are gorgeous and fine -dark ochre and robin's egg blue- and the sans serif type and Hungarian accents top it off like fragile bones.

But looks aren't everything. I was also bowled over by the story, which is both heartbreaking and very funny. It's set in a distinctive time and place, but what's portrayed is accessible to anyone.

Before going into it, it’s important to kn
...more
Declan
Jul 23, 2013 Declan rated it really liked it
Shelves: eastern-europe, nyrb
The three main characters in this superb novel - a mother, father and daughter - have, somehow, expunged all joy from their lives and I believe that all the three of them are, in different ways, complicit in their mutual suffocation. To - as they see it - protect Skylark her parents have allowed a series of habits to come into being which they are forced into maintaining and repeating because to change would be to betray their daughter. It appears to suit Skylark to cling to this way of living b ...more
Daniel
Sep 29, 2011 Daniel rated it really liked it
Some writers capture an instance of human endeavor--be it play, work, strife, exploration, love--in prose that conveys this experience with a singular fidelity. Here is Akos Vajkay, carousing with friends on a late night:

"Akos suddenly picked up the tumbler full of schnapps they had set before him and downed it in one. The alcohol warmed its way through his body and lifted him to his feet. There was an enormous knocking in his old brain and he felt such delight that he really wouldn't have minde
...more
Diane S ☔
Aug 10, 2014 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
The Vajkays, mother, father and their grown daughter Skylark live in Sarszek, Hungary in the yaw 1899. The parent are in thrall with their beloved daughter despite the fact that she is homely, on the shelf, and controlling. Their days are ruled by a dreary routine, the only things to look forward to are the different days of washing, dusting, cleaning etc. Then Skylark unexpectedly leaves for a week, invited to visit relatives in another town. At first the parents are lost without the imposed ro ...more
[P]
May 21, 2016 [P] rated it really liked it
I’ve written about Tom before. He is, you might say, one of my recurring, minor characters. I use him, not without a seasoning of guilt, when required, which is to say when the focus of the review is on those who feel small, ill-at-ease, and unappealing. In any case, I don’t have to worry about him reading this, because these days he only exists within me, caught in the sticky web of my memories. Tom always considered himself ugly, and it is true that he was no peach. A mess of curly hair, as th ...more
Eldonfoil TH*E Whatever Champion
This is Central/Eastern European literature at its finest. Beyond being a lovely mirror of the inhabitants from a particular time and place, this Skylark, cloaked in a provincial Hapsburg Empire town at the turn of the century, is a multi-layered parable on Ugliness. Upon the story’s surface rests the straightforward beauty, softness, and problems of daily life, but beneath it the wormy soil is crawling and Kosztolanyi asks what is Joy, what is Beauty, what is Life? We see all the usual routes a ...more
Jimmy
May 22, 2010 Jimmy rated it really liked it
Skylark is a woman in her mid-30's, an "old maid", living with her mother and father. They've fallen into such a groove that they have become pathetically dependent on each other. Skylark is also butt ugly, which has given her family much shame in not being able to marry her off. They still save up for her dowry, but try not to harbor any hope for her marrying off, as they have been disappointed many times before.

In the beginning of the book, Skylark leaves for a week to go visit a relative. We
...more
Gill
Feb 27, 2015 Gill rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I thought this was a beautifully written, delightful story. I'm also assuming that the translation must be excellent. I had already decided to give the book 5 stars before I came to the final part of it. The final part was incredibly moving (and made me sad) and I keep thinking about it. The result is that, if it was possible to give more than five stars, I would do so.
Mary
Jul 02, 2015 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, nyrb, 2015, hungary
Sometimes, the truth hurts.
Orsolya
I am a creature of habit preferring schedule over spontaneity, clocks over chaos. This can also be said of Mother and Father, the parents in “Skylark” whose daughter, Skylark (obviously), breaks normality by visiting her uncle for a week in Hungarian master author Deszo Kosztolanyi’s novel. How will Mother and Father cope?

“Skylark” is far from a typical fictional novel as characters aren’t formally introduced (you get to know them through their actions), there really isn’t much of a plot, and t
...more
Jim
Jan 25, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing
Some works of fiction are nothing less than magic. Their authors have seen to the core of life and shroud the most mediocre settings with some sort of pixie dust. Such is the provincial city of Sarszeg (sar- is a Hungarian root meaning "mud," just as in French President Nicolas Sarkozy's last name) in the year 1899. Like all of Hungary, it is jokingly referred to as "Kakania" by the Magyars, a disparaging reference to the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. On one hand, you have the universal mean ...more
Shirley
Nov 24, 2014 Shirley rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012, mb_recommended
An old couple's spinster daughter goes away for a week for the first time. The couple are devastated at first but gradually discover pockets and then entire landscapes of color and joy in "unnecessary" experiences such as going to the opera and eating at a restaurant - so much so that they dare wonder if they are actually happier without her. This is painful and rings with honesty as it explores the taboo questions, what would your life be without your children? And might it actually be better? ...more
Janet
Feb 12, 2013 Janet rated it really liked it
Shelves: hungarian
Yesterday I caught the tail end of an interview on NPR citing a study arguing that people who lie to themselves tend to be not only happier but more successful than those mired in reality. These are the people who on a level playing field manage to get the girl, get the promotion, get the good night’s rest, get the fill-in-the-blank. They are the individuals wandering in the desert with an empty canteen they refuse to believe is less than half full. Unfortunately, Skylark is no Shackleton.

Koszt
...more
Andrew Walter
Jul 16, 2012 Andrew Walter rated it really liked it
A powerful and quiet novel that's uncomfortably real in the way it depicts families.

After the sad ending, I couldn't help that Skylark and her parents could have reached some sort of reconciliation with the way they unconciously coddle each other-if they just talked it through. Of course, that's easier said than done when it comes to families with adult children, and if it's tainted with embarrassment and awkwardness now, I suppose it would have been a lot worse in provincial 1920's Hungary. Or
...more
Trish
Sep 14, 2011 Trish rated it really liked it
Set in Hungary at the turn of the twentieth century, Skylark is the story of a family: father, mother, and daughter. They live together in the family home on a ramshackle street in a provincial town. The father was once an archivist, and is an expert on genealogy—his own and his townspeople's. He has followed his own family line back to royalty, and considers himself a better class of citizen than most of his fellows. Now he feels old, and plans for his death, often fussing over the placement of ...more
Sasha Martinez
My first ever read from NYRB Classics.

SKYLARK is the story of the Vajkays–there’s mother, father, and fat and ugly spinster daughter Skylark. There’s a fable-like quality to this premise, to how simplistic it seems. Skylark is to leave home for a week, to visit her relatives. The elder Vajkays try to cope–Skylark has not been away from home this long before–and it’s all a staggering loss. That staggering loss, yes–the Vajkays weep at the street hours after their daughter’s departure–but then the
...more
Amy
Jun 21, 2010 Amy rated it liked it
Though by the time I finished the last page, I was enjoying myself with this book, overall I found it to be slow and plodding. It had just enough going on that it held my attention for awhile, until I found myself dozing off, only to wake up and read a few more pages. Maybe I shouldn't have tried reading it at night.
My impressions of this book:
I would have liked to learn more about Skylark. Throughout the book, I thought of her as bumbling and oblivious. She obviously had her views on things, an
...more
Meaghan
A sort of slice-of-life novel about a middle-aged couple and their grown daughter in a dull Hungarian provincial town at around 1900. The couple has always depended on their daughter, Skylark, to be there and run things and take care of them, and they're at a bit of a loss after Skylark goes to visit relatives for a week. But they actually become a lot more outgoing in her absence, meeting old friends, going to the theater, etc. However, once Skylark comes back you get the impression that things ...more
Charles Newman
Absolutely loved this book. It's a story where nothing happens but everything happens. Not much plot, so don't read it for that: it's about an adult daughter's trip to the countryside and what happens after she leaves. Doesn't sound like much--but it is.
Hadrian
Sep 01, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
A silhouette of life in early 20th-century Hungary. People are carried along by what they do. Kosz has tender and precise prose.
Nancy Burns
Hungarian writer D. Kosztolanyi ....put on #BlindDate reading list!

My review:
https://ipsofactodotme.wordpress.com/...
Francesca
Sep 26, 2013 Francesca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Francesca by: Livia
Poco noto in Italia, Dezső Kosztolányi fu uno scrittore ungherese tra i più rappresentativi della propria terra natia, in particolare a cavallo tra le due Guerre. In patria è noto anche per aver divulgato parecchi autori stranieri, tra i quali spiccano gli italiani Gozzano e Pirandello.

Allodola fu pubblicato nel 1923 ed è un romanzo tutto da da interpretare, leggere tra le righe, capire cosa abbia voluto trasmettere l’autore utilizzando un certo stile, linguaggio, descrizioni.

La storia di per sé
...more
Ana Carvalheira
Apr 30, 2015 Ana Carvalheira rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Há um motivo superior pelo qual nutro uma profunda admiração pelos autores húngaros: a beleza da sua prosa, o realismo quase pictórico e a dignidade da crueza narrativa que quase todos utilizam nas suas obras.

Cotovia é mais daquilo que parece: um quadro social e cultural da pequena burguesia de fin de siècle. É, antes de tudo, um relato avassalador sobre as relações de grande proximidade, uma história de amor na qual as personagens se anulam e se afunilam, quase se destroem moralmente. Devo con
...more
Sławek
Aug 12, 2011 Sławek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We can envy Kosztolanyi's perspicacity and knowledge of human nature. With these two and also with a little bit of irony, he is serving us a novel still current, even timeless.

Here we are with the image of ourselves trapped in the scheme, adjusted to the surrounding reality - rather playing a role in it, than creating it.

Deep in our souls we are denying the existence of this reality (if we even know about it) or we simply don't bother. Eponymous Skylark is this reality, which Kosztolanyi made ug
...more
Malcolm
This is a novel in which not much takes place, but an awful lot happens; a couple’s unmarried adult daughter goes on holiday for a week and they rediscover many of the things about their local town – its restaurants, theatre and old friends, all of which they had drifted away from as they became increasingly inward looking at the family.

In the course of the week Ákos Vajkay and his unnamed wife eat out, meet up with old friends (in Ákos’s case including a riotous all-nighter with the old club)
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Sep 10, 2011 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it
Some of this book feels folkloric - the public crying, the walks through the town, the roles of children and their parents; all of this moves throughout the story with many unique townspeople in the background adding color.

As the story progresses, there are these moments where a scene seems pretty typical but all of the sudden a character will reveal a thought that is either profound or so incredibly honest that it is almost gut-wrenching. My favorite moment for this is when "Editor Ijas" is out
...more
eva
May 08, 2011 eva rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, book-club-2
i was slightly apprehensive about reading this for book club, because i was afraid it would turn out to be just cruel mocking of an ugly girl. but i voted for it anyway, and am glad i did. i liked how he handled the characters - skylark & family as well as the supporting cast: biting and darkly funny, but with a morose sympathy underneath. he was also quite nuanced in portraying both the positives & negatives of the parents' stuffy, comfortable home life as well as their crazy skylark-fr ...more
Nicholas During
Sep 13, 2011 Nicholas During rated it really liked it
A beautiful little book. In places hilarious, depressing, moving, and though-provoking, this book made me think about the alternate realities. The parents of Skylark have sacrificed their lives and fun to stay home with their notoriously ugly daughter and console her with unyielding love. When she goes away for a week-long trip they rediscover the joys of socializing and going out. Skylark herself has hidden her misery to save the feelings of her parents, and they both continue to move forward w ...more
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Dezső Kosztolányi was a famous Hungarian poet and prose-writer.

Kosztolányi was born in Szabadka (Subotica) in 1885, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but which now lies in northern Serbia. The city serves as a model for the fictional town of Sárszeg, in which he set his novella Skylark as well as The Golden Kite. Kosztolányi studied at the University of Budapest, where he met the poets Mih
...more
More about Dezső Kosztolányi...

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“When people go away they vanish, turn to nothing, stop being. They live only in memories, haunting the imagination.” 14 likes
“He was no lover in a worldly sense; the only love he knew was that of divine understanding, of taking a whole life into its depths as if they were his own. From this, the greatest pain, the greatest happiness is born: the hope that we too will one day be understood, strangers will accept our words, our lives, as if they were their own.” 7 likes
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