Email this review


Translated from the Hungarian by Kathleen Szasz and set in the Hungary of today, this novel tells the story of two families united by a disastrous marriage. The Kemerys are impoverished aristocrats who lost their fortune through the gambling excesses of their grandfather. They are a useless, parasitical lot with the exception of the maimed Victor who lost his voice as a child when lye, mistaken for medicine, was forced down his throat. Jonas Toth, from an ancient family of soapmakers, whose trade has been destroyed by industrialization (though their livelihood is in the midst of being restored by the new order), becomes involved with the Kemerys as a tutor for young Victor. He falls blindly in love with Paula, Victor's sister, who consents to marry him only because she is already pregnant with another man's child. In the course of a single day the events are related, in flashback, which leads to Toth's belated realization of the sham his marriage has always been. In order to provide for his education as a teacher Jonas' mother has sacrificed the futures of her other children but this effort is only sneered at by the Kemerys and Paula, throughout the marriage, has continued her affair with her affair with her childhood lover. On the night before a traditional feast, Jonas, overcome by the truth which is flaunted before him, kills his wife. As the story unfolds in a simple, dramatic and moving way the object of the author becomes clear. The Kemerys, totally corrupt, symbolize the decadence of the ancien regime whereas the Toths, guileless victims, symbolize the fate of the craftsman in the cogwheels of capitalism. While this is not entirely unsatisfactory as an idea, its representation here is a little too pat to adequately do justice to the complexities of reality.

Publisher: Knopf