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Abigail

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4.40  ·  Rating details ·  2,860 ratings  ·  272 reviews
Abigail, the story of a headstrong teenager growing up during World War II, is the most beloved of Magda Szabó’s books in her native Hungary. Gina is the only child of a general, a widower who has long been happy to spoil his bright and willful daughter. Gina is devastated when the general tells her that he must go away on a mission and that he will be sending her to board ...more
Paperback, 333 pages
Published January 14th 2020 by NYRB Classics (first published 1970)
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Average rating 4.40  · 
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 ·  2,860 ratings  ·  272 reviews


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Candi
“Four-square, severe, stark-white. Tiny windows covered with iron bars; iron bars across the entrance. It must be terribly old. It isn’t like a school at all. More like a fortress.”

You are a fourteen-year old, motherless girl, and you adore your father deeply. A war is going on, but you don’t really feel the consequences of it (yet). Your beloved French governess has been sent back to her homeland. Suddenly, your father tells you that you are being uprooted from the only home you’ve ever known a
...more
Adam Dalva
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this propulsive, infectious novel coming out this January. Think a bit of EMMA, with a headstrong lead, and a bit of Harry Potter, a school full of byzantine rules and moments of kindness, and all of it set during World War 2, with the same great insightful writing as THE DOOR. It is fascinating to see such a psychologically acute writer spin such a wonderful, universal narrative. I can see why this is a beloved book in Hungary - I wish I'd read it when I was younger.
Hugh
A strong early contender for my favourite book of 2020. This is the fourth of Szabó's novels to be translated into English by Len Rix and might just be the best of the four, though it is difficult to compare such different books. The first, her late masterpiece The Door, is one of my favourites and the other two (Iza's Ballad and Katalin Street) are very impressive - I hope there are more to come, as it seems extraordinary that a book this good had to wait almost half a century for an English tr ...more
Beverly
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A War Story about the Burden of Courage

A young adult story of 15 year old Gina who is bereft because her beloved father, a general in the Hungarian army during WW 2, has seemingly abandoned her in an all girl's school far from her home of Budapest. Gina is wretched, her father seems to have done this on a whim with no explanation, the school is very strict and very religious.

At first, the other girls take her in and try to console her, but her misery makes her strike out at them and soon she be
...more
Diane S ☔
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Gina is the much loved, much spolied daughter of a Hungarian General. As some parent he had denied his fourteen years old daughter little, so why nowdespite her begging and pleading, is he intent on sending her away to school? She is convinced he wants her out of the way so he can remarry. The truth, however, is much more complicated and potentially more dangerous.

She arrives at the school, which appears as more of a fortress, and where everyone dresses and wears their hair the same. Where Psalm
...more
Diane Barnes
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My second Magda Szabo book was just as good as the first of hers I read, "The Door", but in a much different way. I try not to compare books by the same author, saying this was better than that, but letting each book speak for itself. The GR blurb describes this as her most beloved book in her native Hungary. It's the story of Gina, sent to a religious boarding school described as a fortress, by her widowed father, a General in the army. It's the total antithesis of what she's used to as a spoil ...more
Laysee
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Abigail by Magda Szabo was published in Hungarian in 1970 and translated into English by Len Rix only in 2020. If only translation of her oeuvre can be speeded up! Readers who have read The Door will likely agree with me.

Abigail is a coming of age story set in Hungary during World War Two between September 1943 and March 1944. Gina (Georgina Vitay), a 14-year-old motherless girl, is suddenly uprooted from her privileged, upper social class life in Budapest, and sent to a very strict religious bo
...more
Ken
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I realize that the gateway drug to Magda Szabó is The Door, but I put the cart before the horse by reading this, which may play second fiddle in most of the reading world but apparently is first in the hearts of Szabó's native Hungary.

Fortunately, I dispensed with Dickens and had no Great Expectations, a favor we should extend to every book, really, though its hard on Goodreads when you're constantly bombarded with 5-star reviews like this. So please, if you read it, understand that this is an "
...more
Tony
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
The eponymous Abigail is a statue at a girls boarding school in Hungary that the superstitious children believe can ease their sufferings and grant their wishes. Indeed, she sometimes does. Gina, the young protagonist of this novel, knows, as does the reader, that this isn't magic, that there is someone real behind the statue who protects them. The pretense of the book is that this is a mystery. Gina at first is stumped as to Abigail's identity, and then she guesses wrongly.

I guessed rightly, a
...more
JimZ
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I very much liked this novel. I am so thankful that it and “The Door” was translated into English. This book originally came out in 1970–it was re-issued by NYRB in 2020. I have ordered Magda Szabo’s two other books that have been translated and re-issued by NYRB” Iza’s Ballad (1963) and Katalin Street (1969).

Magda Szabo was born in 1917 and died in 2007 (with a book in her hand!). Szabo, whose father taught her to converse with him in Latin, German, English and French, attended the University
...more
Melindam
Vintage classic. A perfect blend of a coming-of-age and historical fiction.
On the Nth re-read still wonderful, moving, mysterious and exciting.
Full review to come.
Melindam
This is the English translation of one of my all-time favourite books.

I have already read several Hungarian novels in English (The Pendragon Legend, Journey by Moonlight, The Door) translated by Len Rix, because I wanted to see/feel, how the translations were bearing up to the original and I have to say that what Rix did was nothing short of amazing. He managed to evoke the same feelings/tastes that were there in the originals.

He did the same with Abigail, this is a great translation, doing ful
...more
Teresa
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Teresa by: JimZ
I was reminded of Fleur Jaeggy's Sweet Days of Discipline when I first started this: a girls’ boarding school; a miserable, rebellious four-/fifteen-year-old in the midst of outwardly conforming schoolmates. But perhaps those similarities are superficial as there are more differences between the two novels than not.

Prior to this, I’d read only one Szabo (she gives her surname to one of the students; perhaps the most physically unattractive though she doesn’t dwell on that), The Door. I found thi
...more
Mary
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, fiction, nyrb, hungary
Boarding school angst, Hungarian style.

Szabo’s books usually shatter me, but this one felt a bit different. Maybe because the protagonist, Gina, is so young and still unbroken by life, at least for most of the book. The action takes place in a fortress-prison-school with rigid rules and religious nun-type teachers. Unfortunately for them there was no super helpful BE BEST campaign in WWII Europe, so there’s bullying and ostracizing in that particularly sadistic way known only to teenage girls a
...more
Anna Luce
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who enjoy books by Elena Ferrante & Antonia White
“In later years, whenever she dreamed of the fortress and the city the wind would always be present, moving restlessly among human figures obscurely glimpsed in the haze.”


Abigail follows fourteen-year-old Gina Vitay’s time as a Matula student in the months leading to the German occupation of Hungary. First published fifty years ago, its English translation has only just come out (Len Rix's translation does not disappoint). Last year I read, and was perturbed by, Magda Szabó's The Door. While I
...more
Jill
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Where do I even begin? Perhaps here: while reading Abigail, I barely came up for breath. It is that rare book that totally blots out the real world and substitutes another world that is so genuine and raw and mesmerizing that the twinning of reader and plot soon become complete. I would count it among the five best contemporary books I have ever read – and I have read a lot of books!

First, the title: I assumed Abigail was the name of the book’s protagonist. Not so. Gina Vitay, a headstrong young
...more
Sara
My second Szabo in as many weeks, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Set in an austere religious school in the middle of World War II, Szabo’s is a tale of contrasts. The young Gina, daughter of a Hungarian General, is placed in the school very abruptly by her father and enters a world deeply different from the one she has been plucked from. From finery and adoration to simplicity and loneliness, Gina makes her lot even worse by immediately offending the girls in her class.

What ensues is a
...more
Ari Levine
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Compared to the meditative ellipticalness of The Door and the jagged perspectival shifts of Katalin Street, this is more of a conventional mid-century Mitteleuropean novel in the vein of Stefan Zweig or Joseph Roth.

That's not a backhanded compliment-- this is one of the most satisfying reading experiences I've had in the past decade, with relentless narrative momentum and suspense, with the most shocking revelation coming in the last sentence. Szabo keeps tight blinders on her readers, trapping
...more
Hilary
This was such a wonderful story! I feel so sad to leave it and miss the main character already. The first 50 pages went a bit slowly for me but as soon as Gina got to her boarding school I was hooked and found this hard to put down, a couple of nights I had to keep reading until after midnight despite having to be up by 6am.

I loved the character of Abigail, if only I had an Abigail in my life! There are many other great characters in this story, there were many school girl characters that I real
...more
Cindy Newton
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an engaging coming-of-age tale set in Hungary during the second World War. I wasn't really aware that Hungary had allied with Germany at this time, so I did learn that! Gina is the only child of a general in the Hungarian army. With her mother having died, she is very close to her father. That explains why it comes as such a shock to her to find that he has enrolled her in a school on the other side of the country. Not just any school, either, but the Matula--a school renowned for its st ...more
Hannah
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
5 Stars - Phenomenal book!

I am near speechless. This book is so beautiful and funny and heartbreaking and you’re on the edge of your seat until the very end.

This is my second book by Magda Szabó and I love it just was much as I loved the first book I read (Katalin Street), which is a lot. I picked up a few Szabó’s books a few weeks before lockdown began, which at this point feels like an eternity ago, and I am so glad I did. I think we need more and more translated literature and we need to be
...more
Giulia (moonrise.bookdom)
Originally published in 1970 as a young adult novel, Abigail became very popular in Hungary and it’s been adapted for television and theatre. It’s set in 1943 and the protagonist is a 15-year-old girl named Gina. She is a great character who goes through a lot: at first she feels angry and isolated but soon she learns the real reason why her father sent her away, and has to face the appaling reality of WWII. There are a lot of touching relationships depicted throughout these pages: between Gina ...more
Calzean
Very much enjoyed this one.
Reads like a YA focusing on 14 year old Gina sent to a most rigid Lutheran school for girls in 1943. The school has strict rules, religion is the main focus, and minor misdemeanours are quickly and publicly punished. Gina starts off badly and there is bullying of the highest level before she is accepted and the tightly united Fifth Years fantasise over romances, discuss staff members, obtain what amusement they can and wonder who is the mysterious Abigail which is a st
...more
SueLucie
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I hadn’t realised until I started reading that this is aimed at a young adult audience and for a great deal of the book it reminded me of ‘First Term at Malory Towers’ in its minute detail of daily life in a boarding school, though admittedly a rather more strict and religious one, and the camaraderie between pupils. But there any comparison ends. The backdrop of WWII coming to a climax for Hungary in 1943/44 is introduced gradually and the atmosphere of foreboding is well done. The secret she m ...more
Lia
I really enjoyed this. I was sympathetic towards Gina at first: how rude and inconsiderate adults are to children! How oppressive and unfair! They might as well be fascists!

But then I gradually see that Gina has a lot of growing up to do, and her judgments — and complaints — about people and events aren’t always sound, or reliable.

The final scolding Gina got is cathartic to this reader. It’s not hard to guess the adults’ involvements even early on. By the end, when Gina definitively sees all th
...more
rosamund
When I first read The Door, I was so taken with it that I researched all of Szabó's other work, and was very disappointed that Abigail, the most popular of her books in her native Hungary, was not translated into English. So I was naturally thrilled when I saw it appear in January of this year. The story centres on Gina, who lives a privileged and carefree life in Budapest with her father and governess, despite the war. But it's 1943, and the world around Gina is slowly changing: she doesn't not ...more
Lisa
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It's been a long time since a book kept me up far too late because I couldn't stop reading it. Part mystery, part thriller, part bildungsroman, "Abigail" is the mesmerizing story of a stubborn, spoiled and defiant girl sent to an oppressive religious boarding school in WWII-era Hungary, for reasons that come into focus later in the book. Revolting against the strict confines of her new life and facing off with a cadre of Mean Girls, she makes a botched attempt to flee back home to Budapest that ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/
"The change that came about in her life robbed her of so much it was as if a bomb had destroyed her home."

With the second World War on, Georgina “Gina” Vitay (a privileged daughter of a Hungarian general) suddenly finds herself losing things. First loss is her beloved French governess (who is sent back to France) and next up her very place at home, told she is to be sent off to a boarding school. Worse, her first love will be disrupted, impossib
...more
Rebekah
So I shall tell you, but there will be a price. From this moment onwards, Gina, your childhood is over. You are now an adult, and you will never again live as other children do. I am going to place my life, and yours, and that of many other people, in your hands...Can you be true to your word, even when you feel you can bear it no longer?” “I shall be true,” Gina replied.
As the story of a young privileged and coddled teenage girl’s challenges in adapting to an alien environment, this book w
...more
Sarah
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was hesitant to read Szabó's "The Door," because the premise didn't sound all that interesting. Once I started reading it, I was immediately drawn into the story, the characters, and their strange relationships. After I finished it, I wanted everyone I knew to read it, without really being able to articulate what was so great about it. It's a book where nothing much happens, and yet the reader is left emotionally devastated by that nothing much.

Abigail has higher stakes. There's a war on, and
...more
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The Obscure Readi...: This topic has been closed to new comments. June 1 - 7: Discussion #1 of 3: The First Third of ABIGAIL 84 25 Jun 10, 2020 12:23PM  
three or four entries for one book 1 2 Feb 19, 2020 09:00AM  
Download PDF/ePub eBook Abigail (New York Review Books Classics) by Magda Szabo 1 4 Jan 20, 2020 08:39AM  
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Magda Szabó was a Hungarian writer, arguably Hungary's foremost female novelist. She also wrote dramas, essays, studies, memories and poetry.

Born in Debrecen, Szabó graduated at the University of Debrecen as a teacher of Latin and of Hungarian. She started working as a teacher in a Calvinist all-girl school in Debrecen and Hódmezővásárhely. Between 1945 and 1949 she was working in the Ministry of
...more

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