Burrow into the dense prose of this novel—the Hungarian author’s second U.S. publication (following The Melancholy of Resistance, 2000)—about an archivist on a mission and you’ll find a story-within-a-story.
There are no periods or paragraph breaks (though there are plenty of commas) in the story of 44-year-old György Korin, a Hungarian archivist, an ungainly loner with bat ears. Korin’s life changes when he discovers a mysterious manuscript tucked inside a family file. He converts all his possessions into cash, which he sews inside his overcoat. His goal is to fly to New York (because, evidently, it’s the center of the world), deliver the manuscript to eternity by posting it on the Internet and then kill himself. Korin is at least borderline crazy but with enough energy to reach New York, though not without problems; he is almost murdered by a gang of feral children outside Budapest, and detained at JFK since he has no luggage and speaks no English. He is rescued by a Hungarian interpreter who offers him lodging. Next, Krasznahorkai crosscuts between Korin’s life in Manhattan and the manuscript he is laboriously entering into the computer. It tells the story of four angelic men shipwrecked in ancient Crete. They travel through time, and Europe, looking for peace but finding only war; there is no way out. Korin has internalized them; they have taken over his life (shades of Pirandello); their quest is his quest, though an abstract one compared with Korin’s New York situation. His landlord and his woman have been murdered in the apartment; the guy had been dealing drugs, and Korin must leave town fast. Back in Switzerland, he buys a gun and shoots himself after delivering an obscure diatribe against a “horrible heterogeneous bunch of people.”
Issues of war, peace and reality are overshadowed by the thoroughly depressing figure of Korin, “the personification of defeat.”