Nathaniel's Reviews > A Journey Round My Skull

A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy
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it was amazing

In recognition of its thoroughness and accuracy, book store franchises shelve this memoir in the medical section, though it reads like literature. Frigyes Karinthy was a well known and much respected writer and humorist in Budapest in the 1930s when he began to suffer from intensifying auditory hallucinations. These disturbances initiate his progression through the medical establishments of Budapest, Vienna and Stockholm. In parallel, his symptoms accumulate, prompt various misdiagnoses (such as nicotine poisoning), assorted treatments of dubious value (topical applications of a mercury compound) and the gradual realization, on the part of all people concerned, that he has a tumor growing on his brain that will first blind and then kill him within the year if it is not removed.

Because of his prominence as a writer, rumor of his ill health travels widely and fast, which gives Karinthy the opportunity to be both self-reflective and socially observant. People from all walks of Hungarian life absorb the news of his affliction in different ways and Karinthy is careful to note how their behavior changes and how it makes him feel—not in a morose or self-pitying fashion; but matter-of-factly and with wit. There is space for his fear and suffering in the book; but the following excepts typify how he chooses to present it:

“It got on my nerves, too, that I kept walking with my feet turned in and that, as my sight was bad, I could not see to correct my step and was constantly going into the gutter or knocking against the wall. And that I kept lurking shamefacedly in a corner or hiding for hours in a cold lavatory.”

“When I put my questions I used medical terms, culled from my reading. I did not ask her what the cowering, terrified Being that lurked somewhere behind my tumor was so plaintively asking me below the threshold of consciousness.”

Since Karinthy writes this account for serialized publication after his recovery, each of the chapters has a brisk, cohesive thrust and each of them benefits from the equilibrium and joy of someone on the far side of misfortune. Karinthy is also playful and experimental in the composition of his chapters, engaging with dreams and hallucinations and toying with time and simultaneous occurrences. The book never slows and is a fascinating time capsule, wonderfully stuffed by a winning and clever man.
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Reading Progress

August 9, 2007 – Shelved
Started Reading
April 1, 2008 – Finished Reading

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