Skylark
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Skylark (Nowy Kanon)

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3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  756 ratings  ·  100 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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New York Review Books - Classics
17th out of 356 books — 301 voters
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20th Century Hungarian Literature
5th out of 111 books — 73 voters


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David
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
Feb 14, 2012 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
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.
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
Daniel
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
Erik Simon
Remember that scene in THE COLOR OF MONEY when Paul Newman got hustled by Forest Whitaker? Here he was, the quintessential hustler, and after all these years, he got hustled himself. Well, that's how this book makes me feel.

I've suspected for some while that just about everyone in the entertainment world is on the take. My most revelatory "Et tu" moment came a few years ago when I saw Melanie Griffith on Broadway in CHICAGO. At the time, I was teaching in Bed-Stuy, and I was taking various stude...more
Declan
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
Timmy
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
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
Shirley
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
Jim
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
Janet
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
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
Andrew Walter
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
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
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
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
Francesca
Sep 26, 2013 Francesca rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Sławek
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
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
Nicholas During
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
eva
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
Lauren Mangold
Even in translation (the book was originally composed in Hungarian), there is an unmistakable color to the prose of Skylark. It is slyly devastating, for being so comedic, so forlorn, so understated, and so bold. The plot is not so much a storyline-- more of a quiet sea change-- but a perfect enmeshing of characters, from the familiar father Akos, to the jejune daughter Skylark, to the cipher of beautiful opera singer Olga Orosz. This is a book to sit with, to chew on, to enjoy longer than its m...more
Linda
A New York Review Books Classic. Sometimes sad, sometimes amusing story of an elderly Hungarian couple, whose homely spinster daughter goes to visit relatives for a week, leaving them unencumbered for the first time since her birth. During Skylark's absence (her name being truly ironic), their reclusive, mundane lives are turned upside down, and the week becomes their vacation even more so than their daughter's. Truly wonderful descriptions of early 1900s Hungary life.
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.
Christine
Incredibly depressing, but I'm grateful to have been introduced to Kosztolanyi's phrasing, intrepid descriptions, and beautiful use of words. Even in English, I think it comes through.
Neal Adolph
What sadness. What melancholy. What judgement. What desire to be something other than what one is. This is a surprising novel - it was nothing that I was expecting it to be. The description on the back made it sound so provincial in its scope; this it is, shamelessly. But I felt deeply connected to this story as it developed - as the tension of its conclusion approached and all this temporary elation was to collapse under the weight of an ugly reality. It is, after all, the story of a vacation w...more
Vittorio Ducoli
La provincia prima della caduta

A prima vista Allodola può sembrare una sorta di versione ungherese dei libri di Piero Chiara o dei vitelloni felliniani, con la descrizione di una provincia magiara fatta di piccoli personaggi, di attori di secondo ordine, di poeti irresoluti, di insegnanti dediti all'alcool.
Una inquietudine ed un senso di disfacimento generale pervadono invece il libro, e ne costituiscono la cifra essenziale: in questa provincia appartata tutte le relazioni umane sono false, o pe...more
Seana
I recently read this book for the NYRB book group here at Good Reads. Great discussion on this short novel. Feel free to join us!

Here's my own review of the book:

The story begins in a moment of nervous anticipation. Skylark, the daughter of two aging parents, is leaving for a week in the country with relatives. The threesome has never really been apart before. Skylark, despite the lighthearted quality of her name is the unmarriagable spinster daughter in a provincial outpost of the Austro-Hunga...more
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NYRB Classics: Skylark, by Dezső Kosztolányi 4 9 Oct 31, 2013 03:50PM  
NYRB Classics: September 2011: Skylark 51 35 Sep 22, 2011 09:59PM  
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1202510
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...
Anna Édes Kornél Esti Aranysárkány Kosztolányi Dezső összegyűtjött versei. Nero, a véres költő ; Pacsirta ; Aranysárkány ; Édes Anna

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“When people go away they vanish, turn to nothing, stop being. They live only in memories, haunting the imagination.” 6 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.” 5 likes
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