Despite the occasional insularity of our literary scene, I’m excited translations of Hungarian author Magda Szabó’s (1917-2007) are made available by some publish houses like NYRB.
Born in Debrecen, Szabó graduated at the University of Debrecen as a teacher of Latin and of Hungarian. She started working as a teacher in a Calvinist all-girl school in Debrecen and Hódmezővásárhely. Between 1945 and 1949 she was working in the Ministry of Religion and Education. She married the writer and translator Tibor Szobotka in 1947.
During the establishment of Stalinist rule from 1949 to 1956, the government did not allow her works to be published. Since her unemployed husband was also stigmatized by the communist regime, she was forced to teach in an elementary school within this period.
The Door reflects this politically frozen time in which all publications ceased. In it, a novelist remarkably like Magda Szabó herself is unexpectedly returned to political favour. To cope with the sudden flurry of attention this brings, she hires a dour peasant woman to help out in her nice new flat, in a leafy suburb of Budapest. The woman is ferociously eccentric, at times arguably quite mad, but over the decades a strange bond of love grows up between them, creating a terrible mutual dependence.
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