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Kornél Esti

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  385 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Crazy, funny and gorgeously dark, Kornél Esti sets into rollicking action a series of adventures about a man and his wicked dopplegänger,
who breathes every forbidden idea of his childhood into his ear, and then reappears decades later.

Part Gogol, part Chekhov, and all brilliance, Kosztolányi in his final book serves up his most magical, radical, and intoxicating work. Her...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published February 25th 2011 by New Directions (first published 1933)
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Embers by Sándor MáraiFatelessness by Imre KertészThe Paul Street Boys by Ferenc MolnárSkylark by Dezső KosztolányiA Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy
20th Century Hungarian Literature
10th out of 114 books — 84 voters
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonThe Double by Fyodor DostoyevskyA Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensThe Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings by Edgar Allan PoeWilliam Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe
38th out of 105 books — 65 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,256)
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Chuck LoPresti
Second read through Kosztolanyi's final novel and of what is translated into English - his best. Based on the premise that you can't be an interesting writer if you're not an interesting person - Kosztolanyi splits his identity to maximize his potential. There are many facets to this episodic adventure and it really lends itself to re-reading. The most obvious comparison is the Swift-like consideration of how varied environments provoke varied responses. A good writer should be able to draw from...more
For the rest of 2012, I'm just going to quote this book instead of having conversations.
Monica Carter
Flabbergasted, I stared at these nightmare figures, who had certainly--either in my imagination or in real life--at one time lived and breathed, and were now black and dead and cold, like glowing embers after they've cooled, died down, and crumbled to ash. I didn't know them. They, however, knew me and recognized me. Some I told them to go and see Kornel. At that they smiled. Asked for a personal description of him. And at that they derisively pointed at me. They asked for his address. There I
This book is not a story it is an experience of life and death and everything in between.
Surreal is one word to describe it. Full of wonderful words and quotes that I will endeavor to remember but probably will not.
Kosztolanyi/Esti are they one person with two personalities or two people with one ?
laugh out loud funny in parts deep and dark in others.
I discovered Hungarian writers through Sandor Marai's exquisite Embers and I am going to devour many more by these fantastic authors.
Patchy, at least in the middle where I felt it lulled a little, but this picaresque was definitely worthy of being resurrected in an English translation. Kornel Esti is a lovable rogue, teller of tall tales, and holder of strong opinions. It's little wonder that his creator Kosztolanyi (or perhaps Esti is the creator, Kosztolanyi the alter ego, who knows?) is considered one of the great Hungarian writers. The thread holding this "novel" together is Esti's singular charisma, capable of conversing...more
Neil Griffin
This is my second Dezso book and I've really enjoyed both of them. This is a lot looser and episodic than Skylark but is just as funny. The book is told through the perspective of Dezso's alter ego, Esti Kornel, and details literary cafe life in Hungary around the turn of the century, as well as some detours in pre-war France and German. It's a series of short stories, all of them whimsical and some of them quite funny. I definitely recommend this author. Hungarian literature is quickly becoming...more
In this book, Kosztolanyi gives us stories about Kornel Esti, the alter ego of the narrator (Esti also seems to share many biographical details with Kosztolanyi). In about half the stories, Esti is a character in more or less realistic fiction whom we read about in the third person; in the others, he is relating to the narrator Kafkaesque fantastic tales. There is some great prose here, and funny and poignant observations of human behavior, but the whole thing doesn't really hang together, as if...more
Each chapter can be taken as an individual entity. The character, if he is that, of Kornel Esti is a good teller of yarns. I especially adored the following chapters: 1) Where he decides to have a conversation in a language he doesn't know, and 2) The one where he first rants on how welcome his guest is, followed shortly by a fantastic diatribe when the guest has worn out his welcome.
Vittorio Ducoli
La conferma di un grande autore

Il libro contiene tredici racconti basati sulla figura di Kornél Esti, sorta di alter ego ribelle e politicamente scorretto dell'autore che, viene specificato all'inizio, è infatti nato nello stesso giorno ed alla stessa ora di Kornel.
Alcuni racconti sono veramente strepitosi, venati di una ironia e di un cinismo che portano il lettore ad un amaro sogghigno. Su tutti, a mio avviso, svetta il capitolo nono, satira feroce dell'animo tedesco ed elogio della tolleranza...more
Aaron (Typographical Era)
Unless you’re familiar with the work of famed Hungarian author Dezső Kosztolányi it’s next to impossible to decipher exactly who’s in charge by viewing the packaging of his final novel Kornél Esti. Both names are prominently displayed on the cover and the spine in the same size and font with a simple slash between them which leaves the prospective reader to wonder: is this a novel by someone named Kosztolányi about someone named Esti, a novel by Esti about Kosztolányi, or perhaps even an untitle...more
At turns absurd, dark, and hilarious. This novel is told in excerpts from the life of the narrator's mischievous doppelganger. While some stories, like those about the town where all of the advertisements tell the terrible truth, or the one in which Esti tries at length to give away a sizable amount of money that he was left by a distant aunt, or the one in which all of the numerous overly-attentive staff of a ridiculously well-appointed hotel perfectly resemble famous historical figures, are ju...more
Dark and comedic, but not quite what was advertised, so to speak. The description of Esti in the chapter doesn't really keep with Esti's character throughout the rest of the book.

Kosztolanyi had a clever idea, but didn't quite pull it off, in my opinion. It works just as well as a series of stories.
William S.
By far one of the most enjoyable, well written, and passionately truthful books I have ever read. This book perhaps beats the swarms of others, taking the seat as my favorite. Everything is done to perfection: the collection of wonderful fragmentary stories like life, the expected but surprising reversals and slights of hand, and even better, the wonderful character of Kornel Esti himself. I recommend this book to all humans wishing for a pleasurable literary read that will force them to read it...more

Crazy, funny and gorgeously dark, Kornél Esti sets into rollicking action a series of adventures about a man and his wicked dopplegänger,
who breathes every forbidden idea of his childhood into his ear, and then reappears decades later.
What if you and your alter ego decide to write a book together?

I love Kosztolányi. I loved the book! I loved everything about it. *clutches book to chest*
I found this book hilarious. Each of the stories is at least a little funny, and some are uproarious. A few are darker or sad. It reminded me a bit of Catch 22. I think the translation was pretty good and I liked the footnotes, which explained certain untranslated words or phrases, and wished there were more.
Frida Arriaga
Muy interesante. Amé el principio, empezó muy bien. Aunque los capítulos largos se vuelven algo tediosos, pero sólo son como tres. De hecho cada capítulo podría ser un cuento corto.
Tiene un humor muy particular y el uso de las metáforas es sensacional. Tiene partes filosóficas que hacen reflexionar sobre la vida.
Cornelis Broekhof
What a delightful collection of stories! Magnificent style, great humor (why the reviewers hardly mention this is a mystery to me), original observations. And all of this in the setting of early 20th century Budapest, in the literary circles of the coffee houses. An absolute must read.
Adrian Buck
A collection of short stories the comedy is gray not black, which is surprising considering what was going on in Hungary at the time. Favourite story was "In which he chats in Bulgarian...": reminiscent of my life in which I chat in Hungarian...
A delightful little book, about an eccentric bunch of poets/writers. It is really a group of short stories the main character being Kornel Esti.
Cooper Renner
A little bit Kafka, a lot of smart writing, a novel that's more like a collection of linked stories, set in Hungary and Austria 100 years ago.
Delightful stories in a few different styles centred on or told by the author's alter ego Esti, a self-aggrandising, incorrigible liar.
If nothing else, the 5 stars are awarded to the beautiful way in which the Hungarian translates to English.
At times insightful, at times poetic. Inconsistant on first read but very worthwhile. Will read again.
Andrew Carlson
Review at
in danish trans.
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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...
Skylark Anna Édes Aranysárkány Kosztolányi Dezső összegyűtjött versei. Nero, a véres költő / Aranysárkány

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“He sat there among them, listened to the buzz of their conversation. He was captivated by them. In that racket every voice touched a key in his soul. He didn’t understand life. He had no conception of why he had been born into the world. As he saw it, anyone to whose lot fell this adventure, the purpose of which was unknown but the end of which was annihilation, that person was absolved from all responsibility and had the right to do as he pleased—for example, to lie full length in the street and begin to moan without any reason—without deserving the slightest censure. But precisely because he considered his life as a whole an incomprehensible thing, he understood its little details individually—every person without exception, every elevated and lowly point of view, every concept—and those he assimilated at once.” 5 likes
“Olyan író akarok lenni, aki a lét kapuin dörömböl, s a lehetetlent kísérli meg. Ami ezen alul van, azt lenézem - tessék megbocsátani szerénytelenségemért, hiszen még senki vagyok és semmi-, mégis lenézem, mélységesen megvetem.” 2 likes
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