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1894 born in Budapest
1919 supports the Hungarian Republic of Council; his father commits suicide
1924-1938 lives and works in Prague, Vienna, Perugia, Berlin, Dubrovnik and Mallorca
1938 imprisoned for political reasons
1956 takes part in the Revolution
1957-1960 imprisoned for nine years, but freed with clemency
1963-1968 allowed to publish again; travels widely; elected as member of three academies
1977 dies in Budapest

Main prizes:
1947 Baumgarten Prize

The Unfinished Sentence

In this novel, with an eye to Marcel Proust s and Thomas Mann s great novels as well as to the Hungarian tradition of realism, Déry gives the panorama of the Horthy era s society, the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the working class. (The Unfinished Sentence remained in manuscript for almost ten years and was only published after World War II, when it immediately achieved great success.) Its protagonist, and the writer s alter-ego, is the law student Lőrinc Parcen-Nagy, who breaks with his family and class. It is through his eyes that Déry depicts the decadence, the decay, the ideological vacuum and the world-weariness of the bourgeoisie and the deformations of Hungarian feudal capitalism. Lőrinc seeks to find the meaning of his life among the proletariat, but to his disappointment, they treat him with aversion and he is bound to take notice of the working class s inner contradictions. The story of the novel, using various personalities and situations as well as several characters, is not governed by a linear plot but the inner time of its characters. The lines of action are woven around the story of three families, the bourgeois Percen-Nagys and Vietoriszes, and the working class Rózsas, the fate of the former two being disintegration, of the latter sacrifices for the sake of the future. The novel is situated in Budapest, but through the families at its centre, we get a glimpse of the Europe of the age. Recollections and predictions help to enlarge the novel s time-span (1933 1938) and illustrate the movement of history. This monumental novel merging different stylistic movements has still kept its freshness. It presents magnificently individualized types such as the suicidal bank manager, the clever and dignified society lady, the habitual turncoat, the working class woman etc. It paints a true picture of the country threatened by fascism, showing what powers and weaknesses led to the nation s tragedy. -Ilona Legeza

Niki, The Story of a Dog

Tibor Déry is an excellent storyteller. His passionate love of truth and uncompromising ethical stance are evident in his best works. This novella is set in the darkest years of Stalinist Hungary. An elderly couple, who have lost their parents in the war and their only son in the battle of Voronezh, take in an amiable mutt, Niki, who becomes part of their lives. The story of the dog's life is objectively related without sentimentality and romance, though with loving attention; nevertheless the novella is not really about the animal, but the whole background history. Similarly to a child, Niki understands nothing about politics; she is only a victim of it, gradually losing her beloved home and master. Finally she, too, dies of the wounds suffered to her soul. The story begins with the adoption of the young bitch by a Communist engineer called Mr. Ancsa. His moral integrity soon leads to conflict with the regime's corrupt leaders, whose cruelty is even explained away by ideology. The engineer is completely at the mercy of his party superiors; he is first forced to leave the city, only to be arrested and imprisoned without any reason at all. The ailing Mrs. Ancsa is left alone with the dog, not even knowing if her husband is dead or alive. Her husband's friend, a taciturn, big-hearted, devoted Communist worker, helps her to even stay alive. Both of them are convinced of the fact that Ancsa is innocent. The atmosphere of the Rákosi era is evoked by showing the hostility of the former friends and neighbours towards the lonely worman; no one dares or wishes to speak to the wife of the 'fallen, guilty' man. She is isolated and excommunicated, forced to share her apartment with another family; despite this, she upholds her inner integrity and never gives up the hope that her husband will return. The dog meanwhile becomes accustomed to the absence of her master and develops a daily routine of long walks along the shores of the Danube. Although food is scarce and she is constantly mocked and criticised for the 'luxury' of keeping a dog, Mrs. Ancsa never parts with her only companion. Years pass and the dog, who has not forgotten Mr. Ancsa, slowly gives up hope of ever seeing him again. After the trip to the country that evokes old memories, she falls ill and dies. The engineer is released that very morning, but by the time he returns home, the dog is dead. The story ends with the dialogue of the engineer and his wife, revealing that their sufferings were absolutely senseless: " 'Were you told why you were arrested?' 'No -the engineer replied. - I was told nothing.' 'And you don't know why you were released either?' 'No -the engineer replied. - I was not told.' " (Translated by Edward Hyams)


Like Niki, this short story is based on the author's own personal experiences. Both stories deal with the terrible ordeal of a loving couple, separated by the workings of an oppressive political system. These were the years of the personality cult; party politics were never concerned with the sufferings of the people, allowing instead fear and terror to spread. The story begins in a prison; the protagonist is led out of his cell clad in civilian clothes, in the belief that that he is to be executed. On the contrary - after seven years of political imprisonment, he is set free. He does not know why he has been released, but then he had never had a trial in the first place. He sets out on his way home to his wife. Déry describes this way home and the reunion with his family. The tense, unsentimental description of his journey relates his encounter with a taxi driver who immediately recognises that he had been in prison, as his family had also been affected by political oppression. The most moving moment is when the unexpectedly sweeping freedom in the form of a radiant spring day causes him to stop under a blossoming apple tree where he is suddenly begins to be sick. The neighbours are flabbergasted to see him, not having heard a thing about him for years. Half of his apartment had been allocated to strangers. The encounter with his wife and son is also staggering. His wife had never given up hope of seeing him alive. Their reunion is presented in an unforgettable dialogue, their speech being restricted to the most elemental essentials. Their sudden physical proximity is upsetting for both of them. Their undying love is evident and the story ends with the hope that they will spend the rest of their lives together.

No Verdict

Tibor Déry has been regarded as the finest writer of socialist prose, although he was not a propagandist of party ideology, only a writer with strong views of his own. After 1956, Déry was imprisoned for 'conspiracy against the state'. After the post-revolutionary regime showed clemency and freed Déry from prison, his last twenty years were marked by prolific output; he wrote novels, dramas, short stories, novellas and essays. Déry's autobiography is an elegiac recollection of his dead contemporaries and a grave yet humorous analysis of his life. Déry finally renounces his illusions of politically committed literature: "I was a bad Communist from the outset, I don't deny that. The question is only - and the answer has been sought for decades - whether anyone can be a good writer and a good Communist at the same time, in the close-fitting uniform which the Party fits him into and which he only rarely gets permission to unbutton." (translated by Lóránt Czigány)

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