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.
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 In 1949 she was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, which was--for political reasons--withdrawn from her on the very day it was given.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.