COBBLESTONE by Péter Lengyel


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 A vast, sprawling novel linking a meticulously plotted jewel theft in 1896 Budapest to the impulsive crime of passion that sinks the plotters--and to the history of modern Hungary, of the anonymous narrator's family, and of life on earth. Months of planning have brought together M†rton Jank¢, the Safe King of Hungary, his former cellmate Socrates Andronikos, pickpocket Isaac Israel Baumgarten, and an elusive ``fourth man''--together with their women, minor accomplices, and hangers-on--to steal the fabled Blue Blood diamond, marked for the celebration of the Hungarian Millennium, from an uncrackable safe in the Hungarian-Italian Credit Bank. After painstaking discussions of ways to carry off the jewel, trials on similar safes, and elaborate contingency plans for eluding the police, the fourth man takes a night off to go to ``Baroness'' Agnes Vad's legendary cabaret Silly Kitty, witnesses a quarrel in which young Bora Clarendon brains her unfaithful lover with a brick, and gets tangled in a preposterously unlikely coverup of the crime. It's a coverup that will bring him up against bulldog Special Investigator Dr. Dajka despite his insistence that he had nothing to do with the crime--an affront that reduces guilty Bora, who's fingered him, to traumatized silence and turns her hair white overnight. Noted Hungarian author Lengyel, who makes his first appearance in English with this 1988 novel, persistently broadens the resonance of his criminal follies by interrupting the narrative for the fourth man's reflections on the rise of multicellular organisms, the dinosaur age, the generations of his family, and the chaotic changes that have swept over his beloved Hungary in the tumultuous century since the robbery. Lengyel's heroically scaled assault on narrative and causality may well remind some readers of Paul Auster, as individual characters repeatedly dissolve into endless vistas of history--and, Ulysses-like, into an obsessively detailed catalogue of 20th-century Budapest.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1993
ISBN: 0-930523-85-7
Page count: 528pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992