Jim's Reviews > Skylark

Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi
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's review
Jan 25, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 20th-century-lit, fiction, hungary
Read from January 24 to 25, 2012

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 meaning of "kaka"; on the other, it refers to the German initials K. u. K., which stood for Kaiser und Königlich -- "imperial and royal."

Nothing could be simpler than the plot. The aging Vajkays have one lone child, a 35-year-old girl whom they call Skylark. Her prospects for marriage are, to say the least, nonexistent. In addition, she is a wet blanket, big time. At the beginning, she leaves for a one week trip to relatives up north. With Skylark gone, Mother and Father Vajkay, who had been leading a dry as dust existence, suddenly shine forth, going to restaurants and to the theater; and in one classic scene, Father Akos attends a drunken revel of the Panthers, an all-male club which features drinking, gambling, tobacco, and gypsy music. After one of their outings, they run into the local journalist and would-be poet, through whose eyes we see the Vajkays as if in a flash:
He could hear rummaging from inside the house, the old couple preparing for rest. And he could see quite clearly before him the wretched rooms, where suffering collected like unswept dust in the corners, the dust of lives in painful heaps, piled up over many long years. He shut his eyes and drank in the garden's bitter fragrance. At such times Miklos Ijas [the poet/journalist] was 'working.'

He stood for some minutes before the gate with all the patience of a lover waiting for the appearance of his beloved. But he was waiting for no one. He was no lover in a worldly sense; the only love he knew was that of divine understanding, of taking a whole life into his arms, stripping it of flesh and bone, and feeling into its depths as if it 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.
As soon as I read that, I felt exactly as if I had bumped into the author, Dezso Kosztolanyi, in the flesh. It is hard to think of a more imaginative summing up of a life.

Eventually, Skylark returns to Sarszeg. Do Papa and Mama continue their recent "skylarking" (please excuse the pun), or do they settle back into a humdrum existence in which their spinster daughter, in effect, calls all the shots? I refuse to say, because I think this obscure 1924 Hungarian novel is perhaps one of the greatest works of 20th Century European Literature, and definitely deserving of your attention.
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Reading Progress

01/24/2012 page 114
04/18/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Justeenetta (new)

Justeenetta my brother has been sending me fiction by irene nemirovshy, a russion who wrote in french. died in auschowitz. after writing 12 acclaimed novels, reminecent of edith warton.

message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Tell me if it's any good.

message 3: by Justeenetta (new)

Justeenetta yes. I liked the short stories better than the novel, one of 12 or so, I;ve not seen the others, it was a bit off-putting because of a pretty happy ending, knowing how the authorended, the stories, especially one called mr rose, very good, mr. rose, as aesthete, keeps putting off getting out of paris, then he decides on norway, which doesn;t work out too well, so he buys a house in the french countryside, packs it full of his treasures & then has to pack his car full of them & leave in a very crowded exodus with a chauffeur he doesn't like. life-long egoist, he becomes on the exodus a compassionate person.

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