Katalin Street

Magda Szabó's moving novel Katalin Street explores the way the past is alive in the present, still shaping life in mysterious ways that are hard to understand.

Szabó (The Door), who died in 2007, is considered one of Hungary's greatest novelists. Translator Len Rix superbly renders the author's subtleties and nuances in English. Katalin Street focuses on three families in Budapest who live on the eponymous street before the onset of World War II. During Nazi occupation near the end of the war, the families are ripped apart; the Jewish parents of the Held family are deported, and their daughter, Henriette, is killed by a soldier while in the care of the Elekes family. From this trauma, the stories of the characters unfold in both first-person and third-person narration. Henriette's ghost has a central role in witnessing and narrating the growth of her former playmates--Bálint, Irén and Blanka--as they cope with loss, love, guilt and later, in the postwar period, the political machinations and repressions of the Communist state.

More than the cruelties of any regime, Szabó focuses on the "tyranny of somewhere else," how people are oppressed by their own senses of time and lost opportunity. "They were too few to support the weight of the images their words conjured up from the void," Szabó writes of her characters' incessant and wistful longing for the deceased. That Henrietta can see the pain of the living creates genuine uncanniness, an otherworldliness further evoked by Szabó's haunting descriptions, like "the almost brutal scent of the flowers."

Eliciting a bittersweet beauty, Katalin Street is a powerful novel about life, death and humanity's elusive sense of place and purpose. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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