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Éva BERNICZKY
( 1962 )

Biography

1962 born in Beregszász (Beregovo, Ukraine)
1980 studies and graduates in her hometown
1987 receives her diploma from the State University of Ungvár; lives in Ungvár (Uzsgorod, Ukraine) together with her husband, the writer Károly D. Balla
2004 works for Élet és Irodalom, Terasz and Litera; first individual short story collection is published in Budapest

Major prizes:
1998 Third prize in the Élet És Irodalom short story competition, 2000 Bárka Prize, 2001 Kosztolányi Prize of the journal Üzenet and the Internet magazine Etna, 2004 Elek Benedek Grant, 2004 Tibor Déry Prize, 2005 Sándor Márai Prize, 2005 Artisjus Literature Prize, 2010 Potusnyák Prize

Etiquette of the Topaz
1999

The beautifully composed volume contains paintings, poems and prose writings: paintings by Vadim A. Kovách and Ágnes Medveczky, 13 short stories by Éva Berniczky and poems by her writer husband, Károly D. Balla. The three genres correspond to each other, and the prose texts are in harmony with the poems and paintings, although the short stories, in spite of their stylistic unity, range from the magical to the absurd. Berniczky refers many times to Samuel Beckett (with mottos or names). The world she describes is modern, and quite wretched. “Hurry up, boy, cut out and stow quickly away this single shot from the otherwise banal world, until people fail to notice!” says one character to another in Berniczky’s “Glass-eyed Angels”, and this is exactly what the writer does: cuts out and puts into place, to show the connections and the incoherence of the world. One of the most unforgettable texts (“As If It Hadn’t Been Born”) is the description of a woman giving birth in a terribly dirty hospital, showing the wonder of a child born in the amniotic sack. The doctor in the story “never investigates the nature of mysteries”, but the writer of the stories does exactly the opposite; she makes inquiries, presents evidence, remonstrates. The epigraph of the volume is telling: “We should never take seriously the miracles we come upon unexpectedly because then they will disappear, vanish into thin air—their fate is secrecy, mystery, the unfathomable.”

Egg-Seller’s Holiday
2004

“And where could they go at all. Time stopped short or started to flow backwards, and they couldn’t get off ...” Berniczky’s first solo effort consists of a series of fifteen tight and well-composed short stories written in long sentences, showing the hopeless life of the strange but everyday people vegetating in the remains of the Soviet Empire. “First volume, fortissimo” said one of the critics, Csaba Báthori, who emphasizes the well-wrought style and the unforgettable presentation of the embittered characters trying to destroy each other’s lives. Other critics cited Maupassant, Checkov, Bulgakov, Tatiana Tolstaya or Thomas Mann as Berniczky’s predecessors and praise her as perhaps the best presenter of the lives of the people (especially the members of the Hungarian minority) living in the Ukraine. The book’s language is unique, as it sometimes utilizes a mixed language of Hungarian and Russian words, and it refers to many cultural allusions from Russian literature. The writer also uses very concentrated image-clusters which are peculiar to her style. In one of her rare confessions, Éva Berniczky uses the same modest and self-controlled way of expression, showing utmost respect for her profession: “My days are spent in strict devotion, but writing frees me from my restrictions, for it does not narrow down the time and space I can use. … I just simply write, or rather learn to write. My short stories have appeared in many literary periodicals—that’s all. And a few volumes. Since I got used to the taste of unrestricted freedom, actually nothing special happened to me. If it had happened, I’m sure I’d have fled from it. Some people write for the masses—I, on the other hand, try to find my way out of the crowd by the means of writing.”

Key to the Castle
2010

Imagine a region whose border has not one side, but three or even four. Now picture an old man who was the citizen of five countries, without so much as once setting foot outside his village. Where are you? The Carpathian Basin—more specifically, in the westernmost corner of present-day Ukraine, which shares a border with Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary. And if you read Key to the Castle, Éva Berniczky’s newest collection of short fiction, you might add that you are on the constantly teetering border of reality and imagination, a border where everything and everyone is pliable and, indeed, continually transforming. The sole constancy derives from the restrained irony, crystalline sensitivity, and the unyielding anthropological eye with which the narrator’s gaze continually scans this region. “Europe’s dark appendix”: This is how the author, in another book of hers, characterizes this region, which is, not incidentally, the geometrical center of Europe. On every page of Key to the Castle Berniczky portrays the destitute external world with a singular richness of language that blends rare words and sumptuous modifiers. And so this world, while coming to seem poorer in a material sense, becomes that much richer in language. The more real it is, the more unimaginable. These two traits presume each other and complement each other. This world is as surreal as it is real. All this is aptly shown by the collection’s title story, “Key to the Castle,” which evokes the image of a storybook key that opens a castle gate. And yet the key to the key, as it were, is far simpler: Key to the Castle—Várkulcsa in Hungarian, Kyucharky in Ukranian—is in fact the name of a village in a district of this region that ethnic Hungarians know as Munkács, and Ukrainians as Munkachevo. The last village on a rural, dead-end road. Few roads lead there to begin with, and there’s nowhere to go from there. Thus, too, living at the end of the world are Berniczky’s heroes and heroines, those whom we generally find engaged in some peculiar, preposterous, or mystical trade: rooster delivery man, chimney sweep, potato baker, tinsmith, coffinmaker, bug trainer. A bunch of charlatans and a bunch of master tradesmen and tradeswomen in a godforsaken village, all of them under the gaze of a woman narrator. The pages of Key to the Castle reveal a truth made up of spectacles and illusions. That’s not to mention the sundry medical conditions we encounter—inflammation of the bladder, hypertrophic prostate, hysteria, and madness—along with an epileptic dog. Berniczky has a penchant for characters on the extremes; indeed, you might say such colorful figures stand at the geometric center of these stories. Beyond being on the fringes and not in the best of health, her characters share yet another essential trait: they are men and women. And in this unforgettable world of prose, this stark fact is manifested in nuanced, sultry, erotic terms. These are mesmerizing tales of villages as distant as their inhabitants. All the while we can discern a little smile-borne dimple on the narrator’s face, but just how many borders this dimple has, not even we can know.

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