HELPING VERBS OF THE HEART by Peter Esterhazy

HELPING VERBS OF THE HEART

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The highly regarded Hungarian writer Esterhazy makes his first appearance in English with a novel that takes a somewhat conventional theme--the death of a beloved mother--and turns it into a story with wider implications, both political and metaphysical. Like most European writers, Esterhazy liberally quotes or suggests other writers, a form of gamesmanship that initially can be intimidating, but Esterhazy is more intent on telling his story than dazzling his readers. His admittedly inexact quotes from writers like Borges, Kundera, and Sartre add to the sense that death--even of a mother or a society--may be a problem, a semantic problem, to be solved by logic and precedent, or at least neutralized. When the narrator's mother dies, the old rules all change and his world is turned on its head--a nurse appears as evil and coarse; the family doctor seems cold; and friends make remarks that do not connect. Grieving after her funeral, he is suddenly visited by this mother, who announces that it is he, rather than she, who is really dead. She expresses her tremendous grief but also begins to reminisce about her childhood in the prewar Hungarian countryside. But the world she so vividly describes has been replaced by a drab totalitarian society: it is, like the son's death, another terrible loss to bear, and as she talks, she remarks that she is tired: ""I don't understand my loss; I accept it."" It is a message of sorts--of comfort even--for the son, both personal and political, that he holds onto as he remembers his mother, near the end, telling him how she was going to die and was afraid. Not always an easy read, but stimulating and provocative. An interesting debut.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld