Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Gyula Krudy

Gyula Krudy, The Adventures of Sindbad

Translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes

This edition published by the New York Review of Books

Originally published by Central European University Press, 1998

Welcome to the world of Sindbad, the long-dead and eternal seducer who will lead you into a world of white stockings and simmering passions, a world where betrayed lovers, mad with grief, kill themselves weekly and never come to harm.

In most of these 24 stories Sindbad’s ghost revisits the women he has loved and finds them grown older and sadder, but still beautifully dressed and not yet bereft of either passion or charm. 

Here is a characteristic reunion, between ghost and lover:

‘How white your hair is now!’ exclaimed Francesca after she had taken full stock of Sindbad. ‘There are long boring nights in the village when I put my feet up in front of the fire and try to conjure up a picture of you, but I can only manage your voice.  There has only been one man since then with a voice like yours, a horse-dealer who tried to steal my cross-breed mare from me.’

Sindbad smiled sadly. ‘I have never completely forgotten you.’

‘You really should have given up lying by now, especially since I hear that liars are put in irons in your present abode in the afterlife’.

-- This is how it goes, story after story, yet I never tired of it – no more than these immortal lovers tire of telling lies and hearing flattery.    Written between 1911 and 1917, these stories could still serve as useful models for world-be seducers.  They would serve even better as company for anyone who finds their bones aching and their hair turning white, anyone who lies and says they are no longer interested in the mad vanities of love.

I remember when I first read Gyula Krudy, about five years ago.  I read the novel Sunflower, which is the only other work by Krudy available in English.  I adored it.   I was 100% certain that Gyula Krudy was about to be “discovered” in North America, that his work would rush into print in English and be received with fanfare and adulation – something like what is happening now with works of Roberto Bolano.

Certainly it is a good thing that I am only a wanderer and not working in marketing. . .  Five years later, I’ve never met anyone who isn’t actually Hungarian who has even ever heard of Gyula Krudy, the scapegrace drunken saint of Hungarian 20th century literature.

As the Szirtes’ introduction points out, Gyula Krudy makes gorgeous use of what has come to be known as “stream-of-consciousness” and “magic realism”.  He does this with concision and black humor and comedy.  His subject is always that of obsessive love.  How could this combination fail to find readers!

Unlike Sindbad, the reader does not have three hundred years to live.  This seems to be a shame.  Three hundred years would give one time to read properly.  As this is not possible, I suggest starting with Krudy’s novel Sunflower, before progressing to this famous book of stories.  Although both are excellent, I reckon it’s a little easier to fall in love with the strangeness of Gyula Krudy by first reading Sunflower.

I continue to hope that time may yet prove me right, that the genius of Gyula Krudy will be recognized outside of Hungary, and that more of his vast body of work – fifty novels! – thousands of stories! -- will be made available in English.    

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