Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One Must Also Be Hungarian
One Must Also Be Hungarian 

The Hungarian national anthem is the only sad and desperate anthem in the world. It was written in the nineteenth century and even the communist regime kept it. Instead of the usual lyrics claiming "we are the best," "our fatherland is above all others," "we shall win against all," it states, "this nation has already suffered the price for the past and the future." (p xvii)

Perhaps one must also be Hungarian to truly understand Hungarian literature. Having read several books over the past eleven weeks from the pen of more than a half dozen different Hungarian authors whose work spans the era from the ebbing of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the nineteenth century to the fall of Communism near the end of the twentieth century I cannot claim to have developed an understanding of the literature or the culture.  But I have developed an appreciation for their literature -- both fiction and memoir.  Adam Biro's own  memoir, One Must Also Be Hungarian, displaying his family and ancestors, and more poetically titled Les Ancetres d'Ulysse in the original French, is a memorable collection of portraits of his family. Each portrait within it is like a snapshot capturing features of personality and character, illuminated by memories and episodes from family history and the author's own experience. His use of family photographs enhances the personal nature of the story by providing images to set beside his elegant but simple prose.  While the elan and humor of his family is clearly delineated there remains an overarching melancholy tinged with sadness for those relatives whose lives were ended suddenly, sometimes due to the violence and hatred that swept Europe in the twentieth century. He shares the glories of Hungarians both within and outside of his family that permeate the zeitgeist of their existence. The stories of success as with Uncle Eugene Perlmuth and the tragic life of the artist, Uncle Jozsi, are just two of the portraits that moved me the most. Both the glories and the sadness are conflated to create an overall image that I found -- the humanity of the whole.

One Must Also Be Hungarian by Adam Biro. University of Chicago Press. 2006 (2002)

View all my reviews

No comments: