An exquisite addition to any library of the dark, the bleak, and the absurd, Borbély’s inauguration into English is a...

THE DISPOSSESSED

In his first and only novel, Borbély describes growing up in a remote village in northeastern Hungary.

Borbély, an acclaimed poet and writer in his native Hungary, once promised his father that he would never write about his dismal childhood. His father died in 2006. In 2013, Borbély published a brilliant, and biting, depiction of his destitute boyhood in a remote Hungarian village. The novel was highly acclaimed, and now, in his debut in English translation, Borbély’s work promises to be a major gift to English readers. His is a massive talent, with a dark taste for the absurd placing him squarely in the company of Gogol, Kafka, and, more recently, Bohumil Hrabal and the filmmaker Emir Kusturica. In the 1960s and '70s, Communist years, Borbély’s family was ostracized because of his mother’s landowning ancestors and rumors of his father’s illegitimacy. They were desperately poor. From a young boy’s perspective, Borbély describes his father’s chronic unemployment, his mother’s ongoing attempts to fling herself down into the well. The boy, his older sister, and their baby brother sometimes went hungry. There weren’t enough resources to support unnecessary life, and so, as Borbély writes in one unforgettable passage, “all newborn animals”—including sparrows, mice, and kittens—had to be “exterminated.” Then the boy shifts his gaze. “We should take my little brother someplace, as well,” he tells his mother. When she demurs, he pushes back. “But why was he brought here?” he insists. “There are enough of us already.” In Mulzet’s magnificent translation, Borbély’s prose is caustic and lucent, tart and somehow burnished. He writes in short, staccato phrases that seem bitten off, chewed at the end with an acerbic twist. He has a fantastic wit; he excavates the darkest whimsy from the bleakest of situations. “But the angels sent him to us,” his mother says of his baby brother. His response: “I don’t understand what angels have to do with it.” Borbély died in 2014, but there is a back catalog of poems, essays, and stories yet to appear in English. Here’s hoping Mulzet brings us more before too much time passes.

An exquisite addition to any library of the dark, the bleak, and the absurd, Borbély’s inauguration into English is a magnificent one.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-236408-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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