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The Door

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A busy young writer struggling to cope with domestic chores, hires a housekeeper recommended by a friend. The housekeeper's reputation is one built on dependable efficiency, though she is something of an oddity. Stubborn, foul-mouthed and with a flagrant disregard for her employer's opinions she may even be crazy. She allows no-one to set foot inside her house; she masks herself with a veil and is equally guarded about her personal life. And yet Emerence is revered as much as she is feared. As the story progresses her energy and passion to help becomes clear, extinguishing any doubts arising out of her bizarre behaviour. A stylishly told tale which recounts a strange relationship built up over 20 years between a writer and her housekeeper. After an unpromising and caustic start benign feelings develop and ultimately the writer benefits from what becomes an inseparable relationship. Simultaneously we learn Emerence's tragic past which is revealed in snapshots throughout the book.

262 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1987

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About the author

Magda Szabó

74 books705 followers
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 Religion and Education. She married the writer and translator Tibor Szobotka in 1947.

She began her writing career as a poet, publishing her first book Bárány ("Lamb") in 1947, which was followed by Vissza az emberig ("Back to the Human") in 1949. In 1949 she was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, which was--for political reasons--withdrawn from her on the very day it was given. She was dismissed from the Ministry in the same year.

During the establishment of Stalinist rule from 1949 to 1956, the government did not allow her works to be published. Since her unemployed husband was also stigmatized by the communist regime, she was forced to teach in an elementary school during this period.

Her first novel, Freskó ("Fresco"), written in these years was published in 1958 and achieved overwhelming success among readers. Her most widely read novel, Abigél ("Abigail", 1970), is an adventure story about a schoolgirl boarding in eastern Hungary during the war.

She received several prizes in Hungary, and her works have been published in 42 countries. In 2003, she was the winner of the French literary prize Prix Femina Étranger for the best foreign novel.

Her novel Abigél was popularized through a much-loved television series in 1978. Abigél was also chosen as the sixth most popular novel at the Hungarian version of Big Read. Her three other novels that were in the top 100 are Für Elise , An Old-Fashioned Story , and The Door .

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,244 reviews
Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
June 5, 2013

How on earth could the telling of the life and character of an aged Hungarian cleaning lady feel so eerily uncanny?

Because, do not be mistaken, this is not a mystery book. This is a novel about the relationship between two women: an illiterate servant and her considerably younger employer, a writer. The latter narrates the story, which is set in Hungary around the 1960s-80s.

So, how could this be such a memorable story? Magda Szabo (1917-2007) proves in The Door to be an astounding writer. After a gripping beginning, she then takes us through a very intense, scary, and magical unfolding of the tale. Szabo draws her brushstrokes regularly, building up the suspense, or may be peeling off the many veils that cover reality.

What emerges is the extraordinary and colossally strong personality of Emerence, the servant. She is an atavistic force that communicates with animals like no other person can, and who has a magnetic power and physical strength to attract or banish or condemn those beings around her according to her beliefs, moods and whims.

In contrast, the other woman --the “woman writer”-- as narrator seems subjected to the will of the strong elderly servant. The unbalance in strength is found also in the way the book focuses our view. If the name of Emerence is introduced at the very beginning of the book, the name of the “woman writer”, Magdchen, which is also Szabo’s name, is only mentioned, in passing, towards the end. The writer and creator becomes the anonymous observer, the “woman writer” in the story.

But is she just an observer? Is she really subjected to Emerence’s forces? For, as she tells us, at the very beginning: “ I killed Emerence…” And this chilling start prompts the telling of the story that led to this, the relationship between two beings that The Door separates. This ambiguity on who is acting on whom makes me think of this book as a meditation on subjectivity.

The Door was published in Hungary in 1987 and has been translated by Len Rix, winning him the prestigious Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize in 2006. This is my first book by Magda Szabo and would like to read more. Unfortunately very little has been translated.

Now I will wait until Istvan Sazbo’s 2012 film version, with Helen Mirren as Emerence is shown in a cinema near me…!!!
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,357 reviews11.8k followers
May 23, 2023

Magda Szabó's The Door - an intense story, a haunting story, a fiercely compelling story of the relationship between two women living in a Hungarian village: Magda, a married writer and Emerence, a mysterious housekeeper possessing qualities of epic proportions. To my eye the above portrait by Hungarian born artist Csaba Markus captures what Emerence must have looked like as a younger woman.

Critical responses to The Door have been dramatic in the extreme: Ali Smith: "a story of such savagery that it demands both silence and truth," Cynthia Zarin: "a bone-shaking book," Deborah Eisenberg: "a white-knuckle experience," Claire Messud: "It has altered the way I understand my own life." Let me assure you, reading The Door and listening to Siân Thomas narrate the audio book makes for one riveting, unforgettable experience.

Originally published in Hungarian in 1987, this New York Review Books edition of The Door is translated into a fluid English by Len Rix and includes a short Introduction by Ali Smith. Author Magda Szabó acknowledges there's a strong element of autobiography at work.

We are in a Hungarian village and listen in as an established author by the name of Magda recounts her experience over the course of twenty years, from, say, about 1965 to 1985, living in a large apartment with her husband, a university instructor, and dog. However, the heart of the heart of this tale centers around Magda and older Emerence, an illiterate woman of peasant stock with almost superhuman strength and endurance for work in the service of others.

A number of other men and women strut and fret their minutes on the pages of the novel - the son of Emerence's brother ("Józsi's boy"), a Lieutenant Colonel and three old women, friends of Emerence: Adélka, Polett, Sutu - but Emerence is the true dramatic presence and it is Emerence whom I will make the focus of my review.

Emerence as the 20th Century
Magda figures Emerence was born around 1905. The more Emerence shares her tragic background, including losing her father as a young child, as a thirteen-year-old witnessing the death of her beautiful twin siblings during a storm followed immediately by the suicide of her mother, her orphan years during and after WWI, living through the atrocities and brutalities of WWII, the more we recognize Emerence embodies the twentieth century, especially twentieth century Hungary. We feel her bitterness when she tells Magda: "You don't die that easily, but let me tell you, you come close to it. Afterwards, what you went through makes you so clever you wish you could become stupid again, utterly stupid. Well, I got clever, which shouldn't surprise you, because I was given training round the clock."

Emerence as a true Christian
The more I learned of Emerence's unflinching love and ceaseless devotion to those in need - women, men, children, animals - the more I was reminded of the 12th & 13th century European women who became Beguines to embrace a life of poverty in order to care for the poor and sick. Although Emerence is illiterate, she reminds me specifically of Marguerite Porete, a Beguine, mystic and author of The Mirror of Simple Souls emphasizing the power of love as infinitely more important than following Church rules. Marguerite Porete, a truly free-spirited woman was burned at the stake for heresy. One can only wonder if Emerence would have been condemned to a similar fate if born in those Medieval years.

Emerence as Ancient Pagan Spirit
When Magda reflects on the inner spirit of this powerful woman, she sprinkles in references to Homer, Hesiod and Greek mythology, references to Sophocles, Euripides and Greek tragedy. “Beneath Medea-Emerence’s headscarf glowed the fires of the underworld." No doubt about it, Emerence, a woman of the Earth who is larger than life.

Emerence as Village Hero
Over the years Emerence came in conflict with others in the village, a series of nasty incidents with a pigeon breeder comes immediately to mind. But this tireless woman never permitted her dedication to her neighbors to slacken - among her many chores: clearing snow from eleven different buildings and raising Viola, the dog Magda and her husband take in. "Everyone trusted Emerence, but she trusted no-one; or, to be more precise, she doles out crumbs of trust to a chosen few - the Lieutenant Colonel, me, Polett while she was alive, Józsi's boy - and stray morsels to a few others."

Emerence as Monument Builder
"She was saving her strength for the time when she might actually do something about the past." The drama of how exactly Emerence plans out her final tribute to those she held dear in her life is something to behold.

Emerence as fierce judge and jury
Emerence is not one to pull any punches. Magda absorbs the sting in the truth of her words. "You have an appalling nature," she began. "You puff yourself up like a bullfrog, and one day you'll explode. The only thing you're good for is getting your friend in the helicopter to make trees dance by trickery. You never grasp what is simple."

Emerence the fierce individual
In the end, all of what I have noted above can be tossed in the fire - there is no doubt, Emerence is her own woman, one who defies categorization. "What more do you want? I cook, I wash, I clean and tidy. I brought Viola up for you. I'm not your dead mother, or your nursemaid, or your little chum. Leave me in peace."

How could I write my review without a reference to the door, Emerence's door. Right before Magda does receive entrance here is what Emerence has to say: "Now pay attention. If you tell anyone, I'll put a curse on you. Anyone I curse comes to a sticky end. You're going to see something no-one has ever seen, and no-one ever will, until they bury me." What does Magda get to see? You will have to read this classic novel for yourself to find out.

Master Storyteller Magda Szabó from Hungary, (1917-2007)

"She also demanded of me that, in my art, it should be real passion and not machinery that moved the branches. That was a major gift, the greatest of her bequests.”
― Magda Szabó, The Door
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,151 reviews1,688 followers
December 8, 2022

Helen Mirren nel ruolo di Emerenc nel film omonimo del 2012 del regista Ivan Szabo.

Magda Szabo gioca con il lettore spargendo nella narrazione fragili elementi autobiografici: il marito della protagonista è uno scrittore proprio come era Tibor, il marito della Szabo; Szabo e suo marito subirono l’ostracismo e la messa al bando, a lei fu addirittura ritirato un premio appena consegnato, e durò per anni, dal 1949 al 1956. Poi ci fu la riabilitazione e il ritorno alla scrittura a tempo pieno. E allora una domestica entrò effettivamente in casa Szabo-Szobotka.
Ma è inutile, e controproducente, andare al di là di queste tenui analogie. “La porta” non è un romanzo autobiografico, non lo è anche se la protagonista è una scrittrice che si chiama Magda, e non è neppure un romanzo realistico.


“La porta” parla di una scrittrice, che è la voce narrante, che vive in Ungheria in un paese che però si capisce essere un quartiere della capitale, insieme a suo marito, a sua volta scrittore. Le loro opere sono state vietate, ma un po’ prima che questa storia abbia inizio, sono state riammesse e riabilitate: la scrittrice narratrice può tornare a scrivere, quindi, non avrà più tempo per occuparsi dell’economia domestica e avrà bisogno di aiuto.
Le parlano bene di un’anziana di nome Emerenc che cucina e pulisce per tutti gli abitanti della strada e del quartiere, si prende cura dei bambini, spazza la strada dalle foglie morte e d’inverno dalla neve. Emerenc conosce tutto di tutti, tiene salotto nel piccolo portico davanti a casa, la cui porta nessuno è autorizzato a oltrepassare, dalla quale arrivano sinistri effluvi di detersivi.
Il primo momento spiazzante è all’inizio quando apprendiamo che non sarà la domestica a subire un esame, ma viceversa: perché Emerenc non lava i panni sporchi al primo che capita - quindi, solo se Magda e suo marito hanno buone referenze, Emerenc assumerà l’incarico.
Non succede molto altro: Magda e suo marito adottano un cucciolo salvandolo dalla neve ed Eminenc diventerà la vera padrone e il riferimento affettivo del quattrozampe, con gran gelosia di chi racconta; il marito di Magda si ammala ed Emerenc sa come curarlo; si ammala anche Eminenc… Szabo sa come regalarci dettagli e informazioni con parsimonia.

Emerenc e Magda interpretata dall’attrice tedesca Martina Gedeck.

Non succede molto, come dicevo, routine, banalità, la trama è esile: il tesoro è dietro la porta, in quello che c’è, in quello che non c’è, in quello che rappresenta e significa. Un tesoro che dilaga quando Emerenc si ammala, nell’ultima parte del pagine: a questo punto si intuisce che dietro la porta c’è uno scrigno (davanti alla porta c’è effettivamente una vecchia enorme pesantissima cassaforte) pieno di gemme preziose.
…ogni legame sentimentale rappresenta una potenziale aggressione, da quante più persone ci lasciamo avvicinare tanto più numerosi sono i canali attraverso il pericolo può colpirci. Non fu facile ammettere che Emerenc contava sempre più, la sua esistenza era diventata una componente essenziale della mia vita; all’inizio mi spaventava l’idea che un giorno avrei potuto perderla: se le fossi sopravvissuta nella schiera delle mie ombre ci sarebbe stato un ulteriore fantasma, insaziabile, tormentoso, che mi avrebbe seguita ovunque e gettata nella disperazione.

Szabo ci fa credere che tutto si svolga in un paesino: la strada dove tutti si conoscono, personaggi ricalcati su sterotipi del paese (ma anche come se fossero usciti da una parabola: il poliziotto buono, il fornaio…), solidarietà umana e anche tanta sfacciata curiosità (privacy bandita e sempre impicciarsi degli affari altrui). Invece siamo nella capitale, a Pest per la precisione.

Emerenc e il cane Viola.

La scrittura della Szabo sembra fatta di nulla, semplice e senza pretese: ma è precisa, sapiente, costruisce magnifiche cattedrali e splendidi castelli con cerchietti e stanghette, con gli stecchini o i fiammiferi come i detenuti. Lentamente sprigiona il quadro, piano piano le gemme cominciano a rilucere, prima nascoste, si può solo intravederle, poi velate, per arrivare al finale dove occorre coprirsi gli occhi, tanto è forte il chiarore.

Una scrittura così sapiente che sa trasformare personaggi intollerabili in creature indimenticabili: Emerenc è burbera e sgradevole al limite della brutalità, di quelle che si vanterebbero di “non avere peli sulla lingua”; la scrittrice è lamentosa e pusillanime. Perfino il cane è un ben strano quattrozampe che di canino ha poco, sembra ricalcato su qualche modello umano (il quattrozampe funge da messaggero tra il mondo del razionale e quello la cui comprensione non è alla diretta portata degli esseri umani).

Magda Szabo.

Tutto converge a fare di Emerenc un personaggio mitologico. In grado di compiere miracoli (a cominciare da come sequestra l’affetto di Viola, il cane). Sin dalla sua prima apparizione, col gigantesco mestolo davanti al calderone nel quale lava i panni, è avvolta in un’aureola di luce. Ha l’energia di una valchiria nonostante sia anziana. Accoglie i randagi, cani e gatti, come sembra che facesse il cristo con i bambini e i mendicanti. È circondata da tre presenze femminili che sembrano le Parche Moire (Sutu, Polett, Adélka).

Il romanzo si apre e chiude con un sogno, che è un incubo, che esprime l’impotenza di fronte alla morte dell’amica e il senso di colpa che la narratrice non riesce a controllare, e superare.

Viola cerca di aprire La Porta.

La porta è il confine della propria intimità, l’ingresso all’amore, all’intimità, alla reciproca conoscenza.
Ora vedrà qualcosa che nessuno ha mai visto, né mai vedrà finché non sarò sotto terra. Io oggi le ho fatto più male di quanto meritasse, le offro l’unica cosa che ho, l’unica cosa che ai suoi occhi abbia un valore. Prima o poi l’avrebbe vista, perché in fondo questa è roba sua, ma almeno così la vede mentre sono ancora viva. Entri. Non abbia paura.
La porta si apre sul mistero della comunicazione umana, sull’umana lotta per superare la distanza tra anime, quella valle che separa uno dall’altro. La porta conduce al mistero dell’amore.
Magda ed Emerenc si sono riconosciute, nel profondo hanno capito di essere composte dalla stessa materia, parlano la stessa lingua anche se sembrano non capirsi, hanno frequenti scontri, il silenzio è spesso la loro forma di comunicazione.

Emerenc seduta sotto il portico davanti a casa.

Per Ali Smith Emerenc è una raffigurazione dell’Ungheria.
Personalmente, invece, trovo particolarmente affascinante quest’altro percorso di lettura: siamo alla presenza di un io narrante che è una scrittrice, la quale scrive e racconta di un’altra donna, un’amica speciale. È la storia della loro relazione che riempie le pagine. Possiamo fidarci al cento per cento di questa narratrice? Ci racconta di un’altra donna, impenetrabile, in qualche modo inafferrabile, una donna con segreti, ma con talento speciale che però sembra voler auto-limitare. È l’altra donna, l’amica, che impone le regole della comunicazione, che decide aperture chiusure momenti di confidenza e momenti di privacy.
Queste due donne sono davvero divise o sono le due parti della stessa persona? Chi delle due è quella brillante? Lila e Lenù sono due metà dello stesso io, come potrebbero esserlo Magda ed Emerenc?
Poi, certo, davanti alla ‘porta’ succede davvero poco, mentre le vicende di Lila e Lenù sono un’iradidio. Ma l��eco, io la sento, e mi piace sentirla, mi aiuta a comprendere.

Emerenc e La Porta.

Il film del regista Ivan Szabo (Mephisto), che credo sia solo omonimo, non parente della scrittrice, è una trasposizione sciapa, didascalica, messa in scena con maldestrezza, visivamente a livello di una fiction Mediaset. Neppure la splendida Helen Mirren nella parte di Emerenc riesce a risollevare il tono di un film nato male (tra i tanti misfatti: attori che recitano in inglese con difficoltà così palesi da dover ricorrere a doppiatori inglesi – flashback in stile horror).

Magda Szabo.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,084 reviews7,005 followers
February 3, 2022
[Edited 2/1/22 for typos, spoilers and pictures]

There are a lot of books about housekeepers who upset your life. I think of the classic Auto-de-Fe (German) by Elias Canetti whose housekeeper destroys his life and The Perfect Nanny. Just last week I reviewed the Matisse Stories and one of them, Art Work, was about a housekeeper who turns things upside down for the artist couple she works for. In this novel, The Door, we have husband-wife writers and Emerence – quite a name!


This is the story of the 20-year relationship between Emerence and the ‘lady writer,’ as her cook/maid calls her employer. They evolve a mother-daughter relationship but it’s not a loving one; it’s a love-hate relationship. Many times the writer is so obsessed by her tumultuous interactions with Emerence that she can’t work for days and at times is physically ill. There are times that the writer thinks (or should I say, recognizes) that Emerence may be insane.

Emerence is an older woman, old enough to be the writer’s mother, but she has super-human strength and can out-work any 20-year-old. She has other jobs too – like shoveling snow for 11 houses. She might disappear for a week or bring food to the house at 3 a.m.

The married couple gets a dog and it becomes Emerence’s dog, living mainly at her house. Emerence can’t stand people like bureaucrats, priests and politicians who don’t do physical labor. She grudgingly comes to accept the idea that her two employers “work” at banging on their typewriters to produce a “product” – a book.

Emerence embodies the good and evil of humanity. She is loving and hateful, forgiving and vindictive, caring and unconcerned, polite and rude, well-mannered and obscene, giving and grabby. She loves that dog but if he does something wrong she’ll beat it viciously.

Emerence is secretive. She has never let ANYONE in her house. All her business and entertaining is conducted on the front porch. What’s behind that door besides a heavy smell of disinfectant? Someone has seen a giant bank safe blocking off a hidden, inaccessible room. Some people say her house is filled with treasures stolen from Jews during the war.

And Emerence is as secretive about her private and past life as she is about what’s in her house. It takes the lady writer twenty years for all the details to dribble out little by little. Is there such a word as ‘horrorful’? A life of abuse, tragedy, lost loves, unrequited love.


There is good writing: “Who isn’t lonely, I’d like to know? And that includes people who have someone but just haven’t noticed.”

Occasionally we get a bit of philosophy: “In my student days, I detested Schopenhauer. Only later did I come to acknowledge the force of his idea that every relationship involving personal feeling laid one open to attack, and the more people I allowed to become close to me, the greater the number of ways in which I was vulnerable.”

I really liked the writing and the story. I thought it a 4.5 but I’ll round it down because the last third or so, when the woman writer is overcome with guilt about the relationship (through no fault of her own), I thought it got a bit repetitive and dragged somewhat.


Although the book was published in 1987, the story is set earlier, in post-WW II Hungary under communist control. The ‘lady writer’ runs into censorship problems, as did the real author in her life. Szabo (1917-2007) lost her day job and had literary awards retracted when her writings ran afoul of ‘socialist realism.’

Top photo, Hungary in the 1960s, from rferl.org
Budapest around 1965 from pinterest.com
Photos of the author from dailynewshungary.com
Profile Image for Gaurav.
149 reviews1,138 followers
October 2, 2021
The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual.
-Gustave Flaubert

link: source

The Door stealthily creeps into your life to unabashedly make you realize that what is coming across, is not something common, for it challenges your perception and interpretation of literature; those of us, who boast about literary discernment of being acquainted with various movements or aspects of literature, may have to eat our own words while stumbling upon this stunning masterpiece by Magda Szabo. Human relationships have been one of the biggest enigmas of humanity, they are as complex (if not more) as the universe itself. We trudged upon the history of our civilization to decode and decipher innumerable conundrums of humanity, however, when it comes to understanding our relationships, we seem to have made modest progress. Of course, of late, we have to able to deconstruct our language, as we moved from structuralism to post-structuralism, to show its inadequacy and inability in our communications but still a lot of ground to be trodden upon.

Like the Dutchman, she steered her mysterious ship entirely alone, always into unknown waters, driven by the wind of ever-changing relationships.

As we know that humanity is as mysterious as anything could be, and hence they have been only a handful of meticulous observers of it; and our literary world is no exception to it, for we have only a few authors like Szabo, for whom we may hold such high regard. The Door is a haunting tale of an unusual relationship, between Magda, an author, and the narrator, and Emerence, a domestic servant, which would stick into your memory forever. The book unfolds itself with a breathtaking opening that perhaps discloses its seeming climax, right at the onset, but that is where it actually starts. It does not have to do anything with any so-called climaxes or any so-called actions for that matter, it is not a typical mystery in which you have to unravel the secrets, rather the book itself unveils its disguised features layer-by-layer, like peeling off an onion, wherein you have to arrange these layers rationally to produce its thorough impression. The book bestows you an opportunity to reflect upon the dark and nostalgic vagaries of your own life, of course, some of them may be ghastly and shocking, it could be said a unique blend of horror and ecstasy.

The book is written not for God, who knows the secrets of my heart, not for the shades of the all-seeing dead who witness both my waking life and my dreams. I write for other people. Thus far I have lived my life with courage, and I hope to die that way, bravely and without lies. But for that to be, I must speak out. I killed Emerence. The fact that I was trying to save her rather than destroy her changes nothing.

Magda, the author (our narrator), feels that her writing has been in a stalemate for years, she shifts to Hungary which is under communist rule. She is excited with the prospect that now she would be able to dedicate her life to writing but it brings a need for someone who could help in daily household chores. The opportunity and chance amalgamate when Emerence comes into the picture, she is a strong, fierce, and eccentric first-rate housekeeper who, in a way, chooses Magda rather than other way around. She hardly shows any emotions as if she is a manifestation of something divine, who can go to any extent to fulfill her duties. The enigma around her personality encompasses the mythical proportion, the more we, along with our poor narrator-Magda, try to understand her, the more befuddled we become, and we share our sympathies with Magda for that. However, as the narrative moves forward, Emerence begins to reveal facets of her personality, in the process, the narrator becomes detached from everyone else, even with the reader, but she is bewitched by Emerence. The narrator suppresses her being to allow Emerence to rise above everything else so much so that other characters look with the eyes of hope, from the depths of nothingness, as if someone could bring them to existence.

This old woman is not just oblivious to her country, she’s oblivious to everything. Her spirit shines bright, but through a cloud of steam. Such a thirst of life, but so diffused over everything; such immense talent, achieving nothing.

link: source

Magda (both Magda- the author and narrator) creates a personality of incomprehensible proportions, but have we ever been able to understand humanity itself, she is domineering and authoritative but charming and influential, somewhat like mother nature. She seems ignorant to everything in life, even to the most cautious eyes, but is she really or are we not insensible and unmindful of such a pure human being. The author has craved some of the deepest eyes in the form of Emerence, those eyes are so intense that you may feel the whole world in them, and those are so captivating, poignant, and soul-stirring that tears would roll down from most of the eyes reading it. She is a distinctive motherly figure who showers emotions upon people, may turn her sentiments to opposite effects but essentially, she is alone at heart, as if her being is untouched, unaffected, and unexplored, in a way she remains imprisoned in her consciousness, and ‘The Door’ to her consciousness is perhaps the most enigmatic and hardest thing of the universe of the author. But why is she, like she is; the narrator and author take you to one of humanity's most harrowing and disturbing childhoods. The author shows you the rosy picture of our vehement measures of success such as war, which is essentially discharge of our rage and fear in mass, but we have more thorns than rose leaves there; what war can do to humanity which stands a mute spectator to the bloodbath that has been fomented by humanity itself in the name of power and religion, which are ironically devised to acquire divinity.

The bond between us- produced by forces almost impossible to define- was in every way like love, though it required endless concessions for us to accept each other.

link: source

The Door is a unique tale of an uncommon (unrequited) love between Magda and Emerence, with love comes vulnerability as we allow people to associate with us we put inessential and excessive pressure on our heart since we imbibe these people in our being and when these part from us, we lose our being. Does it mean that we need to stay clear of all probable bonds, well, being human we can’t help it. And the abovementioned love is unrequited since one of the persons in this union of faith, trust, and interdependency is not allowed to live as she craved her life, she is being robbed of symbols of her faith, her religion, her God by someone who she loves whole-heartedly. Do we have authority to strip those we love, of their existential solaces or comforts they sculpted out of their entire lives, even if it means to save them from dying; and don’t we kill them when throw them into an inauthentic existential hell which rips off the meaning they bestow upon their lives. Don’t we effectively throw them into hopelessness in the name of this hope which takes birth from the womb of lie?

If she died, there would be no escape. If she lived, then the power that had so far never let me down would, yet gain, pluck me back, perhaps for the very last time, from the abyss over which I trembled.

The Door is a scintillating and frightening tale of the history of human civilization, the history which is filled with numerous unfortunate and unexpressed examples of innocence of humanity being engulfed by the searing demands of the hour in the wake of our great deeds. These unassumed examples of innocence have been lacerated by our bloodlust vengeance so that they stare into your face with eyes hardened and fossilized without any trace of tears and emotions, and what can you do except looking into them with your mouth agape in the horror of humanity crying through your useless eyes. You may guess that what importance our silly ideas of hope, faith, and God would have in the life of such a tormented specimen of human beings, she only wants love, pure love, but that too is being snatched from her unfortunate, trembling hands by our foolish desires of ego satisfaction. But one thing is for sure that eventually Emerence may vanish from your lives but not before she paralyzes your heart, forever to be a part of your consciousness- a dark history of your own life.

Humankind has come a long way since its beginnings and people of the future won’t be able to imagine the barbaric early days in which we fought with one another, in groups or individually, over little more than a cup of cocoa. But not even then will it be possible to soften the fate of a woman for whom no one has made a place in their life.
Profile Image for Brina.
902 reviews4 followers
May 7, 2017
The Door by Magda Szabo is a fictionalized autobiography of the author's relationship with her octogenarian housekeeper named Emerence Szerebas. A goodreads friend from Hungary recommended this novel to me because she sees that I enjoy reading women authors from around the globe. Szabo wrote many prize winning novels during the course of her career, including both this book and the one depicted in it. During the course of this award winning novel, the readers experience post life in post Holocaust Hungary as well as the baggage that survivors carry with them. It is in this regard that we meet Emerence and the door barring people from her physical and emotional lives.

Magda and her husband are in need of a housekeeper as they are both too busy with their writing lives to care for their apartment on their own. Friends and acquaintances tell them that an older woman is to be better trusted than a young woman who might spill and break things. A caretaker of a villa down the street, Emerence is recommended to them. A countrywoman from the twin towns of Csabadul-Nadori, Emerence carries a lifetime of grief with her as she takes on cleaning job after cleaning job. Even though she works for Magda for over twenty years and appears to be ageless, the writer does not see through the door to the peasant's soul until near the end of their relationship.

Orphaned by age thirteen and responsible for the death of her twin siblings, Emerence is sent to Budapest to work as a governess and housekeeper. First employed by the Grossman family, she is entrusted to care for their daughter Eva as her own as the parents escape to the west for the duration of the Holocaust. No questions asked, her family sees nothing but Emerence's shame, yet the Grossmans repay her generously for her selflessness. Emerence as we later find out would have done this act of kindness without expecting anything in return. As a result, she hides her treasure deep inside her new apartment, never to show anyone inside the door to her secrets.

By the time Emerence goes to work for Magda and her husband, nine rescued cats are her only companions and she cares for them as others would care for babies. Despite the grief and despair occurred over a lifetime, Emerence has accumulated a neighborhood of admirers who see nothing but the Emerence who sweeps the streets, maintains an apartment building, and cares for others in their homes, including Magda. Even her nephew does not know her secrets until later. Emerence and Magda develop a deep relationship that is not fully realized until the end, including the shared caring for a dog named Viola who comes to see both women as her owners. Even though Magda is seen as self absorbed and Emerence as cold, over the course of the novel I came to deeply admire the two women as did the people who lived in their neighborhood.

It takes courage to write about oneself in less than a positive light, yet Szabo does this in The Door. Developing a trusting and loving relationship over many years between two unlikely people, readers enter through the figurative doorway to the protagonists' souls. Reading about the grief during post Holocaust Hungary was gut wrenching at times, and selfless people like Emerence should be lauded for their actions. This novel is not for everyone, especially not people in search of happy characters. Yet, The Door is an introspective novel that I enjoyed reading because I somehow could connect with the protagonists despite their at times cold dispositions. A award winning novel, I rate The Door 4 quality stars.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,636 followers
June 1, 2016
"I know now, what I didn't then, that affection can't always be expressed in calm, orderly, articulate ways; and that one cannot prescribe the form it should take for anyone else."

What an unusual sort of book and a very peculiar relationship examined therein between Magda, the narrator of The Door, and her housekeeper, Emerence. This novel really grabs you from the start – right away the reader knows that there is some mystery surrounding these two disparate women. Magda is a writer, privileged and becoming something of a public figure in her home country of Hungary. Emerence is uneducated, hard-working and tireless. The difference in social class between these two would certainly seem to preclude them from establishing a friendship, and yet over time they do just that. Yet, their relationship raises many questions about the various nuances that exist within a friendship. What do each owe the other in this relationship? Emerence's life is a swarm of secrets and plenty of hearsay about her background seems to be shared amongst the members of her community. The symbolic meaning of the title The Door is shared with both Emerence's physical door to her home - "No-one had ever seen Emerence's door standing open… Guests were never invited in, and she took it very badly if anyone unexpectedly called her to come out" as well as the barrier she creates to her inner self. Still, she shares of herself in so many other ways – shoveling the snow from walkways up and down her street, providing food for the sick, giving odd gifts of treasures that others may consider junk, and sheltering homeless animals. She asks nothing in return except the respect of her privacy. Magda struggles with this as she yearns to learn this woman's deepest secrets. Emerence is privy to Magda and her husband's "dirty linen", yet Magda knows very little about this woman that she allows into her home every day. As time goes by, however, the various layers of Emerence are peeled back for Magda's eyes only and we, as readers, slowly learn about this eccentric as well.

While I enjoyed the slow reveal of Emerence's character, I still could not truly become attached to her. Her manner was harsh and any bond with her was nothing short of volatile. While she appeared to be non-judgmental and magnanimous in her treatment of humanity at large, I found her to be just the opposite with those that were the closest to her, including both Magda and even the dog, Viola. I know people like this and despite their goodness I still cannot reconcile myself to those traits that seem almost mentally abusive. Emerence detests those that work with their minds rather than their hands and she was not afraid to point this out to Magda – "You think there'll always be someone to cook and clean for you, a plate full of food, paper to scribble on, the master to love you; and everyone will live for eternity, like a fairy tale; and the only problem you might encounter is bad things written about you in the papers, which I'm sure is a terrible disgrace, but then why did you choose such a low trade, where any bandit can pour shit over you? God knows how you got yourself a name. You're not very bright, and you know nothing about people." No matter how charitable a person, what gives them the right to speak in this way to another human being? Especially one they call a friend. If Magda is expected to accept Emerence as she is, then should not the reverse be true? Should Emerence not dole out the same respect? Yet Magda wants to please Emerence and be worthy of her love – almost in the same way as Viola the dog would do anything for her true master, Emerence.

In the end, will Magda stand by Emerence and do right by her? Magda could become a bit watered down at times and play the role of an escapist. But yet, in a friendship, what matters the most – that we do exactly as our friend wishes us to do even if it goes against everything we believe in? If we are the guardians of the door, do we have the right to open that door for others to see what has been entrusted only to us if we believe that this is the correct choice of action? How to preserve the dignity of another human being is a question with no clear answer, but one which we all may need to consider at some time. This was a thought-provoking book which I found quite different from any I have read thus far. I was not really a fan of either of the main characters, and since this was character-driven this was a point that took away from my enjoyment just a bit. Definitely a book worthy of discussion and for that I have given it 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
778 reviews
April 2, 2019
The main character of this story, the woman whose front door provides the title, is called Emerence.
Every time her name was mentioned, I automatically put a 'g' in it and read it as 'Emergence' which turned out to be quite fitting because the aspect of the writing that struck me most was the pacing: the way the story emerged little by little. Author Magda Szabó keeps a tight control over the narrative, allowing details to take on clarity very gradually as when a piece of photographic paper lying in a chemical bath slowly reveals the image that has been projected onto it.

Using such an old fashioned simile is fitting too because most of this story is set long before digital photography. The present day of the narrative is communist Hungary in the nineteen sixties to eighties, but the backstory takes place much earlier, between WWI and WWII. However, viewed from the vantage point of the narrator (also called Magda, and also a writer), who is firmly ensconced in the more modern and less oppressive half of the twentieth century, the backstory initially is only a vague shadow. And in spite of briefly revealing the end of the story at the beginning, Magda narrates from the position of the reader as regards how the story will play out, i.e., she acts as if she were completely in the dark (quite a neat trick given she resembles the author so closely).

So, while we know that she knows everything, we are lulled into thinking she knows nothing — which is convenient because otherwise it would be difficult to accept how awkwardly she behaves at crucial moments in the story as she bungles things again and again, trying our patience quite a bit. But it is such moments that allow the character of Emerence to be further developed, and so Magda's foolishness serves the author's purpose perfectly.

Magda's bungling is another way in which she mirrors the reader. Like her, we are inclined to underestimate Emerence during the course of the story. But our underestimation gets a serious jolt when the full picture emerges at last.
Because, yes, this story is one of very gradual Emergence — until finally it speeds up and races towards a situation of major major Emergency! The narrator and the reader follow along as well as we are able.

A very allegorical story which throws new light onto the history of Hungary in the 20th century, for this reader at least.
Profile Image for Parastoo Khalili.
158 reviews330 followers
May 10, 2020
وای! وای از این کتاب :))
این کتاب مثل دری بود، به یک داستانی عجیب!!

داستان کتاب همانجوری که از خلاصه ش پیداست درباره ی دو زن است! درباره ی رابطه ی یک خدمتکار و خانم نویسنده ی جوانی که کارفرمای اوست. این داستان یه داستان معمایی نبود یک رمان بود! درباره ی عشق عجیبی که یهو بین این دوشخص رشد کرد. بین امرنس و خانم نویسنده!!
داستان درباره ی عشق امرنس بود! عشقش به خانم نویسنده، به آدلکا به سوتو به پالت! به تمام افراد محل که براشون کار می‌کرد.
کتاب درباره ی زندگی سخت امرنس بود، درباره ی روح و عقل عجیبی که داشت
یک چیز عجیبی درباره ی شخصیت امرنس وجود داشت؛ او هیچوقت عادی نبود. شبیه کسایی نبود که ما هرروز می‌بینیم. امرنس شبیه کسی بود که برای مدت کوتاهی کنارماست، روی ما تاثیر می‌ذاره، میره و درنهایت همیشه یادش با ماست.
امرنس روی کل ادم های روستاشون تاثیر گذاشت. بدون اینکه اون ها بخوان بهشون عشق ورزیدن یاد داد.
بدون اینکه خانم نویسنده بخواد اون رو درگیر خودش کرد. درگیر زندگی‌ش، درگیر گربه‌هاش، درگیر در!
Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,774 followers
July 24, 2016
I still don't know how she fitted so much living into one life.

Hope and despair go hand in hand whenever I try to form a rather fragmentary sketch of a far-off Hungarian landscape. It is one place which has become an essential part of my past as well as prospective literary sojourns and whenever I decide to visit there, to meet another storyteller and to hear one more hypnotic tale, there’s always a throbbing anticipation to receive a treasured souvenir made out of unfamiliar lives but exceptional words. And this time, when I found myself standing in front of Emerence’s door, without knocking; patiently waiting on her front porch while listening to her dearest companion, Magda Szabó, I was lucky to witness the masterful weaving of my parting present.

I didn't like my own secrets. I liked other people's even less.

There was something about Emerence. From the outset, her enigmatic persona heightened the curiosity in me and the conjectures which followed were all kinds of strange to silly. I was baffled, moved, scared and eventually relieved. My idea of hell was getting replaced by a more sinister one and my idea of paradise was becoming more dazzling. The bewitching narration was doing the whole trick, which was a cross between a guileless confession and a virtuous revelation. Our narrator, a writer by profession had to have a constant exposure to fiction, as a result of which she allowed herself carefully monitored doses of reality. But soon enough she needed help. A domestic help in the worldly sense but something which carried a lot more than the stipulated deal.

How irrational, how unpredictable is the attraction between people, how fatal its current.

How fatal indeed. When people become too familiar with one’s surroundings and abide by an invisible but existent code of conduct, then something comes forth to shake the status quo. Emerence, a headstrong, self-reliant lady had little but rigid demands from the world around her. A giver more than a taker, she always knew what really matters. Of all this, the door of her home and whatever it concealed was part of her prized possessions. To unlock that wooden door, it was necessary to find the key to Emerence’s heart first. It was as simple and as complicated as that. A synonym for “Vulnerability’ can easily be depicted as ‘that one person’ and for Emerence, that person was her employer, our narrator. Among engaging discourses and occasional dialogues, a relationship of a lifetime flourished between two people which followed itself to the heavenly realms of death.

With the charm of a legend, the credibility of everyday life and the sanctity of a heartfelt writing, this book made me see another glorious aspect of Hungarian world. I’ll soon visit there again.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
July 14, 2021
Az ajtó = The Door : a novel, Magda Szabó

The novel begins with Magda, the narrator, recounting the recurring dream that haunts her in her old age.

As Magda explains, after waking up from this dream, she is forced to face the fact that "I killed Emerence".

The story that follows is Magda's attempt to explain what she means by this sentence; it is the comprehensive story of her decades-long relationship with her housekeeper Emerence.

When the story begins, Magda has just come into favor with the government and her works are finally allowed to be published again. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز یازدهم ماه جولای سال 2018میلادی

عنوان: شهر ممنوعه؛ نویسنده: ماگدا سابو؛ مترجم: فریبا ارجمند؛ تهران، نشر قطره، 1396؛ در 313ص؛ شابک 9786001199387؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان مجارستان - سده 20م

عنوان: در؛ نویسنده: ماگدا سابو؛ مترجم نصراله مرادیانی؛ ویراستار مریم فرنام؛ تهران، بیدگل، 1397؛ در 476ص؛ شابک 9786007806869؛ چاپ دوم سال1398؛

روایتی از اعتراف راوی داستان به قتل یک زن که از لحظه نخستین دیدار راوی با او که «امرنس» نام دارد آغاز، و ماجراهایی که در میانه آنها رخ داده را با جزئیات بازگو می‌کند

نقل از مقدمه: (اعتراف در دین من جایی ندارد، اعترافی که به واسطه آن، با زبان کشیش اقرار می‌کنیم، که گناهکاریم، اعتراف به اینکه مستحق لعن و نفرین‌ایم، به این دلیل که خود خواسته ده فرمان را زیرپا گذاشته‌ ایم، اعترافی که بعد از آن، بدون نیاز به توضیح یا ارائه جزئیات، آمرزیده می‌شویم؛ اما من می‌خواهم توضیح دهم، می‌خواهم این جزئیات را به زبان بیاورم؛ این کتاب را محض اطلاع خدا، که از سر ضمیرم آگاه است، ننوشته‌ ام، و نه حتی محض خاطر ارواح مردگان یکسر بینا، که هم شاهد زندگی‌ام، در ساعات بیداری‌اند، هم شاهد رویاهایم؛ من برای دیگران می‌نویسم؛ تا کنون با شهامت زندگی کرده‌ ام، و امیدم این است، که همین‌طور هم بمیرم، شجاعانه و به دور از دروغ؛ اما برای «ژنین»، چیزی را باید رک و بی‌پروا، اقرار کنم؛ «امرنس» را من کشتم؛ اما این واقعیت که قصدم نجات او بود، نه نابودی او، چیزی را عوض نمی‌کند)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 22/04/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Jaidee.
581 reviews1,109 followers
January 5, 2022
2 "I sort of wished I hadn't knocked" stars !!!

2021 Read I was Most Afraid to Hate Award (Runner Up)

I want to be very clear here. I very reluctantly awarded this novel 2 stars and I mean very reluctantly.

My enjoyment of this work did not even reach 1 star status. I loathed this reading experience but was able to glean a few morsels that got me through this novel and fragments that I was able to appreciate.

I want to start with what I was able to appreciate to a very minor degree :

The personality psychologies of the 2 female protagonists was sound and consistent and painted true to life.

I understood what the author was trying to do and I thought this was a valiant attempt. (will say more down below in what I hated)

The prose was good enough (3 star literary quality)

What I hated, loathed, repelled :

As accurate and well drawn out as the female (archetypal) characters were their interactions were mostly overwrought, immature and very often unbelievable. We have the hardworking uneducated "wise" crone in an enmeshed co-dependent hostile friendship with a young hypocritical bourgeois female academic. The hysteria between the two of them was so over the top ridiculous that I really wanted to bang their heads together. As great as the personality psychology was, the interpersonal dynamics stretched credulity over and over and after time number 637 broke me to tears of frustration.

The moral spoonfeeding of this narrative was blatant, obvious and irritated the bejezus out of me.

This did not work for me (at all) as either psychodrama, allegory nor domestic piece. Mostly like a very aggravating foot blister that will not heal.

The amount of violence towards the dog was absolutely unconscionable (I did not believe either of these characters would either engage in frequent beatings nor tolerate them)

All in all I understand why some might consider this to be a great modern masterwork. I will stick to eating my partner's delicious goulash.

P.S. The opening essay by Ali Smith was so lacklustre but maybe she was nudge nudging us with some foreshadowing.

Profile Image for Adina ( On hiatus until next week) .
827 reviews3,232 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
August 11, 2021
DNF after 20%

I was looking forward to reading The Door by Magda Szabo because I saw many positive reviews and it was planed to be my first Hungarian writer. However, I could not stand the writing style and the characters. I was dreading to return listening to this book. The narrator was fine but the book made irritable (like Emerence). I do not need to like the characters but I do have to enjoy the writing. I didn't, unfortunately.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
March 5, 2020
This book has a timbre, a tone that is haunting.  I will not be forgetting the character of Emerence anytime soon.  An older woman, she acts as housekeeper for a lady writer and the writer's husband.  Odd-turned and enigmatic, harsh and opinionated, Emerence is a workhorse.  The 20 year relationship between the two woman is fascinating, charming, and sad.  The story of Emerence's life slowly comes together, pieced together like an intricate mosaic.  There are myriad meanings behind the title.      

...this woman who peopled her home with animals - sharing this because I just loved the way it was worded.     

 I'm having a terrible time trying to write what I want to say about this book, so will call it quits and ask you to read some of the very fine reviews already posted.
Profile Image for Sawsan.
1,001 reviews
November 3, 2020
كل باب مقفول هو حد فاصل بيننا وبين الآخرين, وقد نفتحه بحسب أولوية الحب والاهتمام
رواية للكاتبة المجرية ماجدا سابو محكية بأسلوب جميل وبسيط
علاقة بين امرأتين- كاتبة وخادمة- تأخذ كل منهما إلى عالم الأخرى
علاقة تتراوح أحيانا بين الجمود والتحفظ وأحيانا الحب والانسجام
شخصياتهم متناقضة, كل واحدة فيهم ترى الحياة والناس بشكل مختلف
الكاتبة حياتها بين زوجها وعالمها الفكري والكتابة
والخادمة العجوز المهتمة فقط بالعمل تبعا لشروطها الصارمة
لكنها تمتلك قوة وحكمة فطرية تتوازن مع ثقافة ومعارف الكاتبة
أجادت ماجدا سابو في التعبير عن الاختلاف بينهما في الفكر والمشاعر والتصرفات
عرضت ملامح من ظروف الحرب والأحوال الاجتماعية والسياسية في بلدها المجر
ومعاني الاختلاف بين البشر ومفهوم العطاء والمساندة والعكس في التخلي والخذلان
الأسلوب سلس لكن فيه إطالة في السرد في أغلب الفصول
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,736 reviews14.1k followers
February 5, 2015
I found the atmosphere of this novel to be full of darkness and despair. The friendship between two woman, one an up and coming author, the other an older woman revered on the street. Emerence is a character I will not soon forget, a woman who has seen much, sheltered unbiasedly different people throughout the war, a hardworking woman of the utmost honor and pride.

The title has many different meanings in this book, the literal door and other doors, internal and psychological. This book raised so many questions. What does friendship mean? How much of how a person sees themselves should be taken into consideration when the person needs help. How much do you owe a person when you are the only one they let behind the barriers and the secrets they have constructed in order to keep their past and present private? I have thought of this book on and off for the last few days, it is brilliantly written and packs a powerful punch. I loved Viola the dog and how attuned he was to the wants and need of Emerence and she to him.

This is not a happy little story but it is a thought provoking one, a book that will not be easily forgotten.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
September 4, 2019
Two complicated women clash in Communist-era Hungary in Magda Szabó’s unsettling character study, The Door .

The narrator is a successful author, a cultured intellectual whose “family goes back to the Árpáds”. This novel is her extended confession; in the opening pages she admits: “I killed Emerence”.

Emerence is brusque, sturdy, freakishly strong, her hair always bescarfed. The indefatigable peasant worker, she seems straight out of a Soviet-era propaganda poster. Her long hard life, tumultuous and frequently blighted by terrible violence, makes her a symbol of 20th century Hungary itself.

These two women form a mutual love/hate co-dependent bond, lasting decades. These two need each other but both are capable of wilful blindness and shocking cruelty.

It is difficult to think of other novels with two such complicated & unlikeable female antagonists (Notes on a Scandal comes to mind, but what else?). The Door subverts all our expectations of how this narrative might resolve itself: in the conventional, Hollywood-friendly version, these two prickly women would eventually come to a cosy understanding, there would be redemptive ending involving mutual admiration, respect and affection. A darker version would perhaps culminate in mutual destruction. Szabó rejects both of these paths in favour of something more morally complex, even ambivalent, but which involves a tragic betrayal nonetheless.

There is something profoundly uncomfortable about reading this book. It could be the nagging feeling that it is entirely autobiographical, and that Szabó is exposing herself as a deeply flawed person. The narrator (referred to by name only once, very late in the book, as ‘Magdushka’), behaves reprehensibly. Emerence too, is capable of callous viciousness, although the trauma she’s experienced over her long life does incline the reader more towards forgiveness in her case.

It’s hard to come away from this novel knowing quite how to feel about it. It is a scathing indictment of … something. Entrenched class privilege? Our tendency to pursue personal advancement at the expense of compassion and connection? The Door is abrasive, perplexing, it raises questions that gnaw at you, and it doesn’t quite let you go.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,097 followers
November 2, 2016

Magda Szabo really makes the reader work hard with this book and I for one found the characters and the story unconvincing

The Door is a novel by Hungarian writer Magda Szabo. The novel documents two decades of life in Budapest after the Communist takeover in 1948, The novel tells the story of a developing and complicated relationship between a young Hungarian Writer and her housekeeper and is partly autobiographical.

Having visited Hungary only last year I was up to date on the history and was glad of that when reading this novel. The book started out promising but the further along I read the more I became frustrated with the character's actions and the repetitive nature of the novel. I know this is a favorite of many but I just couldn't relate to Emerence's rages and tantrums and never felt I understood her or indeed her employer or their actions and while the book is very readable and there are moments where it captured my imagination but I cant honestly say I enjoyed the novel and hence my 2.5 Rating.

Profile Image for Praj.
314 reviews797 followers
October 1, 2013

Johannes Brahms can make autumn leaves dance in one of nature’s most graceful circle. The chill in the air was about to birth the season’s very first snowflake. The clatter of rusty shovels being removed equated to the asinine banters of old women gossiping on the porch. After the death of its final leaf, the trees lay barren like a country that had abruptly lost its people. There were no birds to be seen, yet I heard them chirp a summer song. The fervent barking of a mongrel was followed by a pair of impenetrable irises; blue as the deepest ocean. The frost on my eyes made it tricky to see the peculiar lady carrying a christening bowl with glistening chicken soup. I rubbed my eyes to wipe the frost and something terribly stung me. It was morning, again!! The sunlight on my pillow showed beads of sweat on my arms and the frost along with the barking dog and the lady magically vanished. While poor Brahms still played his 'Lullaby' at my bedside, Emerence saw that I still stayed in bed. It’s been couple days now that I sleep with Emerence’ s ‘mirror-like’ face and wake up trying to experience the sound of her soprano voice. When I open the pages of ‘The Door’ , my heart beats faster than the breeze on my window and my lips are bitten while I take deep breathes, for Emerence brings out my emotional vulnerabilities ; letting my scars bleed through someone else’s wounds.

“Sometimes the strongest women are the ones who love beyond all faults, cry behind closed doors and fight battles that nobody knows”- Anon.

Indeed, the silent , big-boned lady with an impenetrable face and having the persona of a Valkyrie ; Emerence was the strongest of the lot. A mystery that deepened the moment the door was shut. What kind of a flower was Emerence? A rose or a white oleander that tenderly grew around the fence. The now tranquil garden had once seen the dishonorable terror of red and white roses and the bloodbath that a few revolutionary chrysanthemums caused as they tore apart the fair camellias. They were bruised petals scattered like feathers of a hunted dove; each time when a flower revolted, irrespective to their colour. At times it was better when the pristine flowers hanged themselves from the devilish vines because shootings never seem to work all the way. And , “ if you don’t die straightaway, they have to come over and beat you to death or shoot you back”, till all was left were trampled saplings.

“How can I truly describe her, or trace the real anatomy of her compassion — this woman who peopled her home with animals?”

Emerence comes across as an eccentric, arrogant lady bearing an unfathomable obscurity. When the writer hires Emerence as a caretaker, a series of love-hate relationship flourishes between the two ladies. The oddity of Emerence‘s demeanor created a haunting mesh of rumors of what really thrives behind the closed door of the villa. With every tiny window that Emerence opened,it led a draft of fresh air into Emerence’s concealed life whilst the writer gaining confidence of someday being the owner of the clandestine key. But, was it this wretched key that the writer held firmly in her palm, be the very cause of her disloyalty to Emerence?

“I killed Emerence…….”

Szabo creates a marvelous personality through Emerence. Like a mother who bestows her true love at the rarest moments in a child’s life, Emerence spreads her loving arms ; her kindliness becomes the healing medicine for a hemorrhaged life. Her eyes were so intense that they could win battles and a heart that was warmer than the sun on a spring morning. Emerence was authoritative yet lovable; she was irascible on the verge of being bi-polar, yet she was comical and angelic when she smiled. She had an innate goodness that shone through her being a dedicated soldier to her profession and when she saved a helpless life from a deathly ditch by giving it a home. The porch of her villa became a dais for culinary entertainments. Her loneliness was veiled among the silken folds of her compassion. Her uprightness was stricter than the commands of a lion tamer and her honor came from her ambitious vibrant Taj Mahal. She valued the idea of absolute love because it is only love that saves, even through betrayal and death. The fragmentary chronicling of Emerence’s life demarcates the historical events that led the foundation of a burgeoning country and its people. I believe that when one comes across a commendable book, it becomes essential to cherish the prose with intellectual finesse and not mockery as it silently pays a tribute to the efforts and thoughts of the author. This book certainly deserves the said gesture.

"It is just that, as well as love, you also have to know how to kill”.... “ Lord kills too..."

Szabo makes it decisively known to the reader, the mindset of war victims and people who were spectators to the bloodbath of a country’s egotistical power battle and their probable abhorrence to religious validations. These sentences in the book, makes you think the legitimacy of religious norms adhered to find a welcoming acknowledgement and defining the presence of God, even if it means to sacrifice the well-being of human life, the very own premise that celebrates God’s worship. If it us humans, who ultimately authorize the matter life and death, choose to love and hate as per as our fallacious opinions and annihilate the very foundation of survival, then why do we use the pretext of the Lord to define our mortal egocentricities. Szabo’s prose is not only hypnotic but memorable, as her words follow you like a willful shadow never letting go even in the darkest night.

“You can't give anyone a greater gift than to spare them suffering...."

It was these among numerous other words that made me fall in love with Emerence. It may sound harsh even horrifying maybe, but when a blood drenched body lies on the gates of death, breathes gasping for its finality an additional bullet or a stab may just bring a smile on the departed rather than the sorrow that engulfs a slow death. When Emerence reminiscences her past while she stitches , I cry ; when she reprimands either Viola or the writer and shows a speck of her blooming affection ; I smile and when her eccentricities peak with obnoxious childish acts ; I laugh.

‘The Door’ is a powerful metaphoric representation of a woman and several others like Emerence who rather live a restrictive yet dignified life dwelling in the opaqueness of a wooden door than drowning in the nakedness of merciful alms. Emerence was more than a categorical flower; she was “a truly great lady, pure as the stars” .

Szabo’s writings make me reflect whether we who belong to the generation that frets on the mere number of ‘likes’ acquired on a social website, ever tried to know people like Emerence who have seen a country grow, perish and once again grow? Is it too late before an entire generation is wiped out and their stories are just mere sentences in newspaper archives? When a country is in its most horrendous turmoil and when innocent lives are cut short, isn’t it becomes necessary on the part of those alive to give a significant burial and carve memorable tombstones so that the perished do not have wasted lives. Is it too much to ask to honor the dead? Emerence makes me wonder about the degree of pain to be suffered that eventually dries up a human’s tear ducts. How many heart wrenching cries does it take to have a single serene bath? There are several who have move past the atrocities of egotistical power hoarders and have a flourishing life, but what about those who have closed all doors and have lost the key of faith along the way. With every inch that Emerence opens the door of her life, floodgates are opened within me, hurling me in a vortex of emotions. It is here that I wish so dearly to be sitting with Viola, Emerence, Polette, Sutu and Adelka on the porch, and while Emerence poured tea in her prettiest china I have an earnest desire that I was the sole owner of the key that would open the door to all of their precious lives.

“Like a truly great commander she settled everything around her in person, with a single impressive gesture………. Humankind has come a long way since its beginnings and people of the future won't be able to imagine the barbaric early days in which we fought with one another, in groups or individually, over little more than a cup of cocoa. But not even then will it be possible to soften the fate of a woman for whom no-one has made a place in their life. If we all lacked the courage to admit this to ourselves, she at least had done so.....”

Ladies and Gentlemen!!! Emerence Szeredás..

(** Actor Helen Mirren essaying the role in the namesake movie).
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews511 followers
January 3, 2017
In modern postwar Hungary, an old woman who is now a famous author recalls a nightmare: herself as a young woman. The novel begins after she has passed through a “politically frozen” time and started to be able to write again and to be publicly lauded for it. She and her husband move up a step on the social ladder. They hire an old woman, Emerence, as a servant. Or is it the other way round? “I don’t wash just anyone’s dirty linen,” Emerence says, coming to see their flat in her “ceremonial” headscarf and taking her time deciding whether they will suit her before she takes over the household, turns up for work whenever she feels like it, and bonds with the dog in a way no one else can.

Emerence is primitive, demanding, and without religion in a way that makes her somehow full of God’s wrath. There is “something superhuman” about the way she can work. She feeds all the neighborhood sick, sweeps all doorsteps; nothing human and in need is alien to this woman who has hidden refugees across the board from Fascist to Communist.
Emerence had her ideas about everything. Even doctors were not to be trusted and God only understood her take on trust, religion and all things human. The church vehemently disagreed, but that was their problem. She only relied on the security that she had created for herself and the animals she so passionately protected against the cruelty of life and humans. She had a belief in animal purity ("They can't inform on us, or tell lies about us"), while never questioning her way of beating animals into near-senseless submission.

Nobody, except herself and her foundlings were allowed behind the locked door of her apartment. Come icy cold winters, or scorching hot summers, everyone was received on the veranda. The windows were securely closed up to any prying eyes. No human being ever tried to disrespect her wishes. Emerence was a ferocious defender of herself and what was right according to her. She could be dangerous, as some neighbors realized soon enough after meeting her.

Until she met 'the author' and the latter's husband, Emerence never allowed anyone into her personal space or circle of trust. In fact, there was no circle of trusted friends. She had a whole community who loved her, but that was different. Only animals and herself understood her way of love and devotion to them. It would ultimately lead to a tragedy and regret. No person is an island, although life forced Emerence to create her own hide-away since she was a young girl of nine-years-old. As long as the neighbors and her employers allowed her to function within her own secure borders, she acted normal...

And as long as 'the author' and her husband allowed Emerence to treat them like children, the author was able to learn more about this reclusive, yet hardworking caretaker of the mansions across the street. The autobiographical tidbits Emerence told the young author were impossible, folk ballads in prose. It kept 'the author' mesmerized and devoted to her new housekeeper for many years.

Emerence was immensely strong and tragically weak. She was trustworthy but untouchable; giving but refused to receive; tough but loving; challenging but devoted to the people she lived with. She thought she could trust the famous author. Alas...
The narrator('the author'): Once, just once in my life, not in the cerebral anemia of sleep but in reality, a door did stand before me. That door opened. It was opened by someone who defended her solitude and impotent misery so fiercely that she would have kept that door shut though a flaming roof crackled over her head.

I alone had the power to make her open that lock. In turning the key she put more trust in me than she ever did in God, and in that fateful moment I believed I was godlike — all-wise, judicious, benevolent and rational. We were both wrong: she who put her faith in me, and I who thought too well of myself.
The prize, I reflected bitterly, had already begun to work its influence. I had rushed off in a TV car towards its radiance, away from illness, old age, loneliness and incapacity.
... Away from Emerence who was unable to tell the author that she loved her, or needed her. The only way she knew how to do that, was to lash out in cruel profanities and verbal abuse. The author misunderstood her words, just like the Lieutenant Colonel did not speak the same language as Emerence when it came to expressing their feelings and emotions.
Author: So he(Lieutenant Colonel) didn’t grasp my meaning either; or perhaps he couldn’t. We were dealing in such different currencies. Emerence’s dictionary featured filth, scene, scandal, laughing stock of the street and shame. His contained law, order, solutions, solidarity, effective measures. Both phrasebooks were accurate, it was just that they were in different languages.

In the introduction to the book the translator says:
...unless we read other languages, we miss out on superlative novels like The Door by Magda Szabó. This American edition comes nearly thirty years after its original publication, and very little by Szabó, one of Hungary’s most eminent novelists, is available in English. But The Door is so full-blooded and stately a book that it clearly belongs with a shelf of equally fully made creations by the (now elderly) Szabó, every one of which the reader will want to find after finishing this compelling, funny, and horrifying novel, translated by Len Rix in a rich and calm tone.

I first watched the movie, available on Youtube, in which Helen Mirren portrays Emerence brilliantly, before reading the book. The cast of characters are British, the production team Hungarian, and the ambiance of the 1960's era as well as the cultural environment were masterfully done. The language is English. It brought this book alive on a totally different level and for once I believe that the film saved the book in a way. Absolutely masterfully done, but of course adapted and I wanted to know the real story, so I got the book. A wise decision, I believe.

One of the most profound events in the book, when Emerence explained her fear of lightning to 'the author', was so much better experienced in the text. Gripping and heartbreaking. And all of a sudden, we see Emerence as the traumatized nine-year-old little girl hiding inside the bravado and toughness of the ageing housekeeper. And suddenly we wanted to hold the old curmudgeon, hug her, love her, protect her from her own tragic pain.


I suspect that some of the magic of the prose got lost in translation, which is corrected in the movie as far as ambiance and atmosphere is concerned. Yet, I found the book a fascinating read as well, and wanted to relive the life of Emerence through the prose again. It was well worth the read and a thought-provoking experience about the different emotional languages we all use to express the memories we dared not talk about. We have different ways of building those protecting walls around ourselves and when a community have to deal with a crisis, we suddenly have difficulty in understanding each other's words while talking the same language.

The book is written in the first person as a memory. A welcome linear tale, presented in an intimate conversational tone with the reader. The author communicated her thoughts and regrets directly with the reader, which makes it a great experience. I was wondering if this was based on a true story or pure fiction. It was told thát well! Biographical novel?

I accidentally encountered the movie and the book, but what a magnificent start to a new year of reading it was!

Recommended for sure! An absolute gem.
Profile Image for Robin.
484 reviews2,619 followers
October 1, 2016
An uncomfortable look at the barriers that we put up to protect ourselves, and the price that is paid for that self protection. Does it ever really work?

Magda Szabo wrote this in the original Hungarian in 1987, but it is now translated and available in English. It tells the story of the relationship between two women: Magda, a writer, living with her husband, and Emerence, an older peasant woman who is hired as her housekeeper. Both women come from vastly different backgrounds. Emerence is an almost unknowable, unstoppable force, who for some reason, Magda is obsessed with understanding and gaining her trust. Slowly, and often very painfully, Emerence opens up, showing glimpses into her life's story, showing vulnerability that she normally cloaks. She also puts Magda and her husband through the ringer many times with her very unorthodox behaviour and her incredibly bossy and caustic ways.

One day, this friendship is put to the test in what I found to be a complete catch-22. Magda is faced with a situation in which she has no good choice to make - both are a form of betrayal. When she picks, it weighs on her heavier than she can express to anyone. The fallout of her decision is something she will have to live with.

I was drawn into the story easily, although there was a stretch in the middle where the conflicts between Magda and Emerence felt repetitive. Then about 2/3 in, I was fully engaged and couldn't put it down. The weakness of the novel for me is why Magda wants to connect so much with Emerence in the first place. The woman is mainly weird and unpleasant to her, rejecting her good intentions and exposing, ruthlessly, her flaws. I didn't understand Magda's need to win over Emerence, unless it is simply the desire to unmask what was so carefully hidden.

The story asks questions about friendship and acceptance, about aging and dignity. Also about doors, or barriers that we put up in order to protect ourselves. Can we ever truly protect ourselves? Can we allow ourselves to remain untouched by others in our world? I would argue that the answer is no, for better or worse.
Profile Image for JimZ.
1,019 reviews458 followers
February 9, 2020
This was a remarkable book.

This novel was published when the Hungarian author, Magda Szabo, was 70 years old. That gives me hope! If I can be that creative hen/if I am 70...

A reviewer from The Scotsman had this to say in praising the book: “…I picked it up without expectation. I read it with gathering intensity, and a swelling admiration. I finished it, and straightaway started to read it again…”

Why would somebody start to re-read the novel? But I too went back and read the very first chapter. And I am glad I did….had I not done so, I would not have gotten as full a grasp of the novel as I did. Because that first chapter “set the table” for the entire rest of the novel. In the first chapter the narrator tells us of a recurring dream/nightmare she has about a door. The novel builds up to a point near the end of it in which the narrator, Magda, tricks the old woman, Emerence, who has come to trust and love her (and it is reciprocal) to open her door of her little cottage, in an attempt to help her…to save her life or so she thinks… although the old woman has put her faith in Magda that she would never ever let anybody through that door. I can’t divulge anything more…it would be a spoiler.

And I would not want to do that…you need to read this book. I read it in one afternoon and evening…it was mesmerizing and I needed to find out how the story ended before I went to sleep. You need to find out what was behind not only the outer door that led into the house but also the inner door of that house that led into a room that nobody had been in for years, and the belongings of which was to be bequeathed to Magda, upon Emerence’s death.

This book was voted as “10 Best Books of 2015” by the New York Times Book Review. That’s remarkable in that it was originally published in 1987. It took nearly 20 years for it to be published in English (translated by Len Rix, 2005, Harvill Secker) and in 2015 it was re-issued by the New York Review of Books.

Book review by Claire Messud: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/bo...
Several reviews can be found at this link: https://bookmarks.reviews/reviews/all...

The NYRB edition has an introduction by Ali Smith and in her first sentence she points out a fact that really bothers me…"The proportion of books published in the English-speaking world that are translations, from all languages (and including best-selling crime novels), is currently about three percent.”
Why does that bother me? Because of her second sentence which I agree with wholeheartedly: “A result of this is that, unless we read other languages, we miss out on superlative novels like The Door by Magda Szabo.”
Profile Image for Dream.M.
453 reviews90 followers
June 3, 2020
The one sentence summary
یک پیرزن خدمتکارِ مغرور، به شکل عجیبی عاشق خانمِ اربابش می‌شود.

"اگر کسی کاردی تیز توی قلب آدم فرو کند، آدم بلافاصله از پا نمی‌افتد؛ ما نیز دریافته بودیم که فقدان امرنس را هنوز در درونمان احساس نکرده‌ایم، که لطمه‌اش بعدا به ما وارد خواهد شد، که بعدا از پا خواهیم افتاد."
به همین خاطر است که از گورستان ها ، از رفتن به سر مزار ، و از مراسم ترحیم متنفرم ؛ زیرا معتقدم تنها جایی که رفتگان در آن حضور ندارند، همین جاهاست. همین جایی که تن لطیفشان، پیچیده در پارچه‌ای سفید ارزان قیمت در حال پوسیدن ست و خوراک حشرات می‌شود .
می‌دانم اینجا نیستید، هرچند استخوانهایتان هنوز اینجا حضور دارند. شما را اما هر روز و هر شب، در خانه‌ی سرد و خشمگینم می‌یابم ؛ پشت پیانویی که نواخته نمی‌شود، کنار میزی که گردگیری نمی‌شود ، در آشپزخانه‌ای که اجاقش خاموش است. شما را در تمام جاهایی که دیگر هیچ‌وقت نخواهید بود پیدا میکنم.
⛔هشدار. این بخش از ریویوو فاقد هرگونه ارزش علمی،هنری،تاریخی یا هرنوع خاصی از ارزش های متداول بشری است. اگر حوصله‌ی چسناله ندارید، نخوانید.

آرزو میکنم و باتوجه به هرج‌و‌مرجی که همه‌جا رو گرفته، بیشتر از هر زمان دیگری بعد از رفتنشون امیدوارم که دنیا به زودی نابود شه؛ و من هم از شر تمام این آشوب روانی که مثل کرم چوب درونم رو پوک کرده راحت شم.[ یه صحنه توی کتاب هست که خانم نویسنده وارد اتاق مخفی "امرنس"( همون خدمتکاری که فوت کرده و رابطه عاشقانه‌ی تمیزی باهاش پیدا کرده بود و کل کتاب هم راجع‌به همونه) میشه و با زیباترین اثاثیه‌یی که تصورشو کنید روبرو میشه. ولی تمام اون مبلمان و اثاثیه که توی ظاهر سالم و محکم بنظر میان، به شکل غ‌ق‌ت با اولین تماس دستش متلاشی و پودر میشن چون از درون پوسیده بودن.]
اینکه آرزوی نابودی همه رو دارم بخاطر طبع خودخواهم نیست . بخاطر اینه که به شدت از تنهایی می‌ترسم و بعضیاتون رو بقدری دوست دارم که نمیتونم دوری‌تون رو تصور کنم چه برسه به تحمل. لعنتیا ! هیچکدومتون پایه‌ی خودکشی دسته جمعی نیستید. حتی توی بوی فاضلاب هم دنبال بارقه های امید به زندگی میگردید. حالم ازتون بهم میخوره حقیقتا، ولی دوستتون دارم و از اینکه دوستتون دارم حالم بهم میخوره.
یبار سعی کردم خودکشی کنم ولی نشد. اعتراف میکنم خیلی بی‌عرضه و ترسوام. میدونم اگر کسی بخواد واقعا اینکارو کنه حتما روش مناسب رو پیدا میکنه و توی سی ثانیه خلاص... ولی من بزدلم. بخاطر همین تصمیم گرفتم یه قاتل اجیر کنم که دخلمو بیاره و صد البته ارزونم باشه. چون خیلی وقته سرکار نمی‌رم و طبیعتا یه پاپاسی ام ندارم، اگر کسیو می شناسید که مرامی یا صرفا جهت لذت آدم میکشه منو به اون یا اونو به من معرفی کنید . جبران میکنم.
قاعدتا انتظار میره توی ریویوو از خود کتاب هم چیزی بگیم. مختصر عرض کنم که اصلا نمیدونم حسم به کتاب چیه و هیچ نقطه‌ی خاصی از مغزم رو نخاروند. احتمالا کتاب عاشقانه اس ولی من همش دنبال رگه‌هایی از مرگ تووش بودم. ولی مثل یک گنج یاب کودن همش دور خودم می‌چرخیدم و صفحه‌های اشتباهی رو ورق می‌زدم، درحالیکه کافی بود پنج صفحه آخرو بخونم.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,255 reviews451 followers
December 21, 2015
It took me 10 days to read this book, which is unusual for me as I can read fairly quickly, especially when I really love a book. But this one demanded to be read slowly, not only to savor the language, but to get inside the mind and heart of Emerence, which proved impossible in the end.
Emerence was a servant, working for an author and her husband. When she turned the tables on them at the interview, claiming that she was in fact interviewing them ("I don't do just anyone's dirty laundry, you know."), that should have been a clue that she would always be the one in control. She also worked as a caretaker for her apartment building, sweeping the streets, shoveling snow, fixing things, (in her 70's!) She took care of the sick, helped the poor, hid people during and after WWII, all without expecting or desiring any return.
But Emerence was no saint. She railed against God and religion, hated any type of authority, made fun of any type of art or culture, refused to accept any help to improve her lot in life, preferring to remain a person who worked with her hands.
Her strength and endurance were legendary with her neighbors, and her iron will and determination made her intractable. She lived alone with her secrets, and never allowed anyone through her door. A woman never to be forgotten or trifled with.
Magda Szabo reveals Emerence to us very slowly, in small doses, and even at the end we can't know what really made her tick. I thought it was appropriate that the narrator is unnamed, only known as "the lady writer". She was one of the few people loved by Emerence but it was not her story. Emerence controls the reader as she does everything else in her life. A great book that I won't soon forget.
Profile Image for Maziyar Yf.
492 reviews238 followers
February 20, 2021
خانم ماگدا سابو در کتاب «در» شمایل جدیدی از یک قهرمان آفریده ، امرنس شخصیت اصلی داستان در عین عادی بودن وداشتن نقشی معمولی در جامعه به هیچ وجه انسانی معمولی نیست . در حقیقت خانم سابو صفت دانایی را به امرنس نسبت داده و خواننده و نویسنده و راوی داستان همگی در برابر امرنس جاهل و نادان هستند .
داستان در یک دهکده در مجارست��ن می گذرد ، نویسنده تلاش کرده قشرهای مختلف جامعه را در این روستا در کنار هم بگنجاند . اما همه آنان در برابر امرنس یک کاراکتر معمولی و کم اثر هستند ، امرنس خود قوانین خود و بخشی از جامعه را وضع می کند ، او در عین حال که خدمتکار است اما با غرور می گوید : من لباس های هر کسی را نمی شورم . امرنس خود صاحب کارش را انتخاب می کند ، او حیوانات را مجذوب و مطیع خود می کند ، برای بیماران غذا می برد و اگر برفی ببارد پارویش را بر می دارد وکل کوچه را پارو می کند .
رابطه راوی داستان با این راوی کل یک رابطه یک طرفه است ، به مرور زمان راوی عاشق امرنس می شود اما امرنس تقریبا در بیشتر موارد او را تحقیر می کند ، از رابطه اش با خدا و کلیسا تا حرفه و شغلش نویسندگی که امرنس آنرا کار احمقها می داند . امرنس همچنانکه در جامعه می گردد و به ملت خدمت می کند در اندک زمانی که در خانه است هیچ کس را نمی پذیرد . در خانه ، او را از جامعه بیرون نگه می دارد ، امرنسی که به تمام خانه ها راه دارد کسی را به خانه اش راه نمی دهد . گویا به هیچکس این اندازه اعتماد ندارد که خلوتش را ببیند .
فلسفه زندگی امرنس ساده و سرراست است ، او اعتقاد دارد که بزرگترین هدیه ای که می شود به کسی داد این است که از درد و رنج نجاتش دهی .( بر مبنای همین فلسفه امرنس انتظار دارد که بعد از مرگش کسی بیاید وگربه هایش را خلاص کند تا بدون او درد و رنجی نکشند )
خانم سابو با یک روایت ساده و جذاب ، تفاوتهای دونوع نگاه به زندگی و شاید هم مرگ را بیان کرده ، او به استادی کاراکتری آفریده فراموش نشدنی و با معجزه قلم خود تمام ویژگی های سخت امرنس را برای خواننده باورپذیر و قابل قبول کرده است .
Profile Image for Hilda hasani.
120 reviews134 followers
April 10, 2021
خوشحالم که خواندن «در» باعث شد با ماگدا سابوی فوق‌العاده آشنا شوم! این زن نویسنده‌ای قهار است. از همان فصل آغازین کتاب همه‌چیز پیداست، آنگاه که راوی صحنه‌ای از خوابش را با ما به اشتراک می‌گذارد، کابوسی که برای هر گیرافتاده در چنگ رویایی صحنه‌پردازی آشنایی دارد، و سپس خود در دو صفحه‌ی اول کتاب خیلی رک و پوست کنده به خواننده می‌گوید که امرنس را او کشته است. راستش را بگویم کتاب دقیقا از همین نقطه برایم جذاب شد، زیرا دانستم در بند دانستن پایان کتاب نخواهم بود و آنچه پیش رویم است احتمالا معجون دلپذیری از روابط انسانی و کند و کاو میان آن‌هاست.
بله، اشتباه نمی‌کردم. داستان امرنس و صاحب‌کارش که همان خانم نویسنده‌ی راوی نیز هست آنچنان پرکشش و گیرا بود که تمام اتفاقات و زمان و مکان پیرامونم را هنگام به دست گرفتن کتاب در خود می‌کشید. شیمی رابطه‌ی امرنس خدمتکار و صاحبکارش و نوع عشق و علاقه‌ی بین این دو و از همه جالب‌تر شخصیت‌پردازی بی‌نقص امرنس از ماندگارترین چیزهایی بود که به جرات تا کنون خوانده‌ام.
در این داستان زندگی همان طعم واقعی‌اش را به ما می‌نمایاند، آن روی نامهربانی که در کنار چشاندن عشقی می‌تواند زهر مرگ‌آسایی را نیز در حلقت بریزد.
Profile Image for Karen.
573 reviews1,116 followers
April 8, 2018
What a mesmerizing and quite dark little book. This is about a Hungarian writer and her husband who have an older servant woman who basically takes over their household and their life. The book is mostly about the relationship between two women, and it’s a tense situation throughout but I really did like it!
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book484 followers
May 9, 2021
The Door is a fictionalized account of two Hungarian women, one an intellectual, a writer, and the other an uneducated woman whom the first takes on to be her housekeeper. The story spans years, and as the two women grapple with their relationship, it grows into one that can only be described as love. Ah, but love comes in so many guises, and love is a complicated emotion.

She didn’t understand that it was because of our mutual love that she went on stabbing me til I fell to my knees, that she did it because I loved her, and she loved me. Only people truly close to me can cause me real pain.

Magda Szabo has written a completely unforgettable character in Emerence; an enigmatic soul; one for whom you cannot help feeling an affinity but for whom you never really come to feel any affection. In the beginning, Emerence seems mostly unlikeable and stubborn, and thoroughly unreasonable, but as the story progresses, we are shown bits and pieces of what has shaped her and what drives her, and feelings begin to turn. At the outset, it is “the lady writer”, our narrator, a person of some importance, that appears to be at the center of this story, but along the way it becomes evident that this is really Emerence’s story.

She was the Snow Queen. She stood for certainty--in summer the first ripening cherry, in autumn the thud of falling chestnuts, the golden roast pumpkin of winter, and, in spring, the first bud on the hedgerow.

In addition to the desire to unravel Emerence’s strange personality, there is the added element of mystery surrounding Emerence’s home. What is behind the door? What is she hiding? She will not allow anyone to come into her apartment or even have a glimpse of what lies behind her door. What is there in her past that might explain why she is the most generous and caring when someone is in need and yet she, herself, can never accept the slightest gift or gesture of generosity from another? The symbolism of the closed door of her house and the closed door to her life is evident.

As this novel progressed, I became obsessed with the psychological complexities of this character. I could barely set the book aside for a moment and turn my attention to anything else. I found myself thinking about it incessantly until I could return and pick it up again. The ending took me by surprise as well. Like everything else about the novel, it was not so simple as it might have seemed it should be to decide what was right or wrong, who was most to blame, and what I felt I might have done, myself, in a similar circumstance.

There is a pervasive sense of darkness in Szabo’s writing. This is my third of her novels, and I find that same ominous aura hangs about them all. Her characters have endured wars and upheaval, and their lives reflect the chaos, even those characters who seem normal or appear to have moved on. Her writing is powerful; her prose is stark; her world is murky, but she is a remarkable dream weaver and well worth exploring.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
April 3, 2019

At some point during my reading of this, I was reminded of The God of Small Things in that I felt as if this too can be read on two levels and that if I knew more of the history of the country of origin (here it is Hungary), I would’ve gotten even more out of the novel. Because I know basically nothing of the latter (I googled some), and even though this can be read as a character(s)-relationship study, I feel as if something essential has eluded my grasp. Yes, we are told in perfect pacing what Emerence has endured and how she has survived the upheavals, but there are also minor characters—such as Sutu and Adelka—that might represent the accommodation and compromise Hungary was forced to negotiate during and after wartime. The dignity Emerence fights so hard to keep behind the locked door of her flat is certainly a metaphor for more than just a personal boundary.

The narrator, a writer, has made accommodations with the government, though these are not spelled out. As she looks back (the whole book is a reflection), she realizes how unseeing and selfish she’d been toward the demanding, selfless Emerence, a character described in fable-like and mythological terms, who’d tried to teach her some difficult lessons in unorthodox ways, most importantly, how to act with unconditional love. Emerence’s demands are perhaps beyond the scope of anyone to fulfill; yet the narrator (only named near the end when Emerence calls her by an affectionate nickname) realizes she has failed the older woman, especially as Emerence had taught her what she needed to know (remember Polett?) to handle the climatic situation. (As I write this, I realize there is also a third level.)

During my read, I went back to the powerful beginning at least twice to reread it. A scene near the end is a strong indictment against materialism, for any reason, even love. If I have any criticism, it’s that though the book isn’t long, it went on for a bit too long. Except for the aforementioned scene, the novel’s other points had already been made. Despite this one reservation and my wish that I knew more, this is the kind of novel I love, one that has me testing my own boundaries.
Profile Image for Cláudia Azevedo.
270 reviews116 followers
October 19, 2019
Que livro maravilhoso! Emerence é uma das personagens mais marcantes que me foram apresentadas ao longo de décadas de leitura. Ela infiltrou-se na minha vida, nos meus pensamentos, falava dela com a minha família, à hora do jantar, como se ela existisse, perplexa com algo que tinha feito, suspensa do que poderia vir a fazer. Poucas vezes a literatura tem esta capacidade de gerar personagens que nos acompanharão para o resto da vida. Como leitora, sinto-me grata a Magda Szabó pelos dias que vivi com esta mulher única e inigualável, com o seu Viola e os seus gatos, o seu passado trágico e a sua determinação exuberante.
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