William2's Reviews > A Journey Round My Skull

A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy
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really liked it
bookshelves: translation, memoir, medicine, 20-ce, autobiography

Who did the photo editing for this particular New York Review Book? My God, it's dreadful, and by far the most off-putting aspect of the book. The book itself is a fascinating autobiographical account by a well-known member of Hungary's pre-WW II literati who discovers that he has a brain tumor. The text itself is an interesting blend of travel writing, medical memoir, cultural observation, and philosophical inquiry. Karinthy is interested in the effect of his tumor on everything, not just himself. There's an interesting passage on the reporting of his surgery in the Budapest newspapers, he is in Stockholm by this time, and the effect it has on a number of his friends and coworkers. He was a popular figure at the time in Hungary (1934), particularly known for his comic parodies of fellow writers.

Because so many physicians were in his circle, he was actually prevented from getting a prompt diagnosis. Karinthy self-diagnosed rather early on. His medical friends, including his physician wife, when he told them of his conclusions were always 'Oh, come off it!' Today we have MRIs and CT scans. Diagnosis is fairly easy. For Karinthy in his day there were no such technologies. The diagnosis was made by inference alone and it took a long time. The neurologist Oliver Sacks provides the introduction here. For him, a clinician who writes highly readable popular books about the brain and its functioning, Karinthy's penchant for "long digressions, philosophical and literary" and "a certain amount of fanciful contrivance and extravagance" are faults. My view is otherwise. I see these flights as providing fascinating insight into the mental and emotional condition of the writer/patient. I admire Sacks' own books and have read them avidly, but Karinthy's is a more literary alternative to his staunchly clinical and amply footnoted narratives.

Especially enjoyable are the glimpses of cafe society before WW II in Budapest, Hungary: the walks Karinthy takes through its streets and parks. Karinthy survived his surgery and lived another two years before dying of a stroke in 1936. He did not live to see the Anschluss or the German entry into the Sudetenland. He was never to know how the Nazi threat would unfold and all but destroy the continent. Naturally, he was seriously preoccupied. Yet I found his obliviousness to the growing threat of fascism fascinating and it has made me wonder if it wasn't perhaps indicative of a broader public mindset. There is no criticism of the Nazis, just a sense of eerie foreboding when Karinthy finds himself passing through Germany on his way to Stockholm for the surgery (performed by the pioneering Dr. Olivecrona). Highly recommended though not for the squeamish or faint of heart.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2010 – Finished Reading
March 24, 2011 – Shelved
July 31, 2011 – Shelved as: translation
December 22, 2011 – Shelved as: memoir
December 22, 2011 – Shelved as: medicine
December 22, 2011 – Shelved as: 20-ce
February 27, 2012 – Shelved as: autobiography

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie I think I'd also find enjoyable the glimpses of cafe society before WW II in Budapest. But damn, I am faint of heart. (Karinthy looks a lot like Arthur Koestler...)


message 2: by Erik F. (new) - added it

Erik F. I randomly added this to my "to read" shelf yesterday -- I had no idea that you had just read it! What are the odds? Anyway, it seems very interesting.


William2 It is! His story is interesting, but there are odd elisions, too, that make one wonder. Please tell me what you think....


message 4: by Steven (new) - added it

Steven Godin Added this to my wanted list, sounds well worth it.


William2 Yep. It's a keeper. Should reread it soon myself.


message 6: by Jan (new)

Jan Great review, fascinating topic


message 7: by Steven (new) - added it

Steven Godin What's the issue with photo editing?, does it effect the overall reading process?


message 8: by Marina (new) - added it

Marina Thank you for this. I picked this up at a yard sale ages ago, and I've been rather intimidated by it since. You make it sound fascinating.


Hunor Borbély Just to clarify some facts: the surgery was in 1936, and he passed away in 1938. No offense, but the review was so brilliant, I felt an urge to perfect it.


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