THE FLOWER SHOW and THE TOTH FAMILY by István OrkÉny

THE FLOWER SHOW and THE TOTH FAMILY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

These two novellas by Hungarian writer OrkÉny (1912-1979) have that particular Central/Eastern-European gift of achieving nearly instantaneous intimacy between writer and characters. The Flower Show, an effective one-note Étude, concerns a TV documentary about the last hours of three dying people; and since, in OrkÉny's world, people get other people to do the most unnatural things with amazingly good humor, the members of the TV crew become directors--dramatic as well as financial--of these separate deaths. (""What you just said. But stop winking and blinking and look up at the camera. What's the matter? Have you forgotten it? You said there was nothing in the world that was genuine but death. Come on now, repeat it after me. And open your eyes if you can."") The Toth Family is somewhat richer. During World War II, a Hungarian soldier is killed in battle, but the local postman--loath to deliver bad news--destroys the telegram, delivering only a pre-death note from the soldier to his family informing them that he has offered their home as a recuperation spot for his commanding officer, a major with shot nerves. The major arrives for the scheduled few weeks, insomniac and tetchy; he and the Toths sometimes mishear each other (""What I want to know is whose breath smells so foul!"" instead of ""I never would have though your charming daughter was so old""). So finally the Toths' whole routine is soon destroyed by this demanding wreck of a visitor, whom they cannot but obey since their son's welfare (they still think) depends on him. There's more than a touch of repetitious, folktale-ish cruelty in the comedy here. And in both tales there's an allegorical owning-up to Hungary's susceptibility to fascism, the almost relieved surrender of individual will.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1982
Publisher: New Directions